Page 1

A Message in a Bottle New Technologies, New Relationships for Catechetical Ministry by Caroline Cerveny, SSJ A wonderful scene from the movie “A Message in a Bottle” comes to mind as I begin this article: a divorced single mother finds a bottle on the shore while out jogging. Imagine that you are out walking a nearby beach where you discover a bottle near the shore. In it you find the recent 43rd World Communications Day message from Pope Benedict XVI and come to this passage: The new digital technologies are, indeed, bringing about fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human relationships. These changes are particularly evident among those young people who have grown up with the new technologies and are at home in a digital world that often seems quite foreign to those of us who, as adults, have had to learn to understand and appreciate the opportunities it has to offer for communications.

the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were “socialized” differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain. ( %20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf) We need to remember that it is OK to be an immigrant in this digital culture. To be meaningful today in ministry we need to blend our traditional communication styles with the digital opportunities that surround us. As many of our family members who came to this country learned a new language and new skills in order to survive and contribute to the new world, in turn we have the same challenge today to learn new skills and a new language in order to be on the cutting edge and to offer meaningful messages with the digital tools that are a-plenty!

As you sit on the beach reading the document, you realize how the digital world we are currently experiencing impacts our ministries and how we communicate with one another. Perhaps this quotation rings true with you and, at the same time, there is this feeling of “how do I ever catch up with digital communication!” Perhaps “uncomfortable” is another way to identify how we may feel at this time with digital technologies. Most of us in ministry belong to the Digital Immigrant Generation. I so appreciate Marc Prensky’s description of us in his 2001 online article, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”:

As we continue to ponder the statement by Pope Benedict, the realization hits us that this very prophetic message needs to be shared with others. As I prepared for meeting with the diocesan directors of religious education at NCCL’s annual conference, I found myself reading and rereading this document in the Benedictine style of “Lectio Divina,” a wonderful way to share insights and reflections with others (normally using Scripture).

Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to [Digital Natives], Digital Immigrants.

We need to remember that it is OK to be an immigrant in this digital culture.

The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn — like all immigrants, some better than others — to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that

I invite you to engage with others in reading and reflecting on this document using a process similar to “Lectio Divina” for the conversation. I hope you find the experience as fruitful as I did. To begin, choose someone to facilitate the following process, inviting between four and eight persons to be part of the conversation. Here are the suggested three steps of the process:


4 July/August 2009


Volume 20, Number 4


Gone are the days when communities are only located in the neighborhoods we live in.

1. Read aloud slowly the entire document once. Perhaps several participants would like to take turns reading the text. Listen meditatively and highlight the phrases that are meaningful for you. The first reading has the purpose of hearing a word or passage that touches the heart. After the first reading is completed, stop to just “savor” the phrases or words that are meaningful to each of you by simply reading aloud one or two of your phrases to the group. 2. During the second reading, once again members may want to take turns reading the text aloud by paragraph. This time savor your highlighted words or phrases, reflecting on where the word or phrase touches your life that day. At the end of the reading and after a brief silence, invite participants to share what they have “heard” or “seen.” Continue the personal sharing by paragraph. Since the entire document is being reflected on, it is not necessary for each member to offer a reflection for each paragraph. Simply allow the Spirit to guide the sharing of your insights and reflections with one another. 3. Do a third reading, perhaps with soft music in the background. Again you may want to take turns reading a paragraph at a time. Take time to savor meditatively what has been shared in the conversation. Participants during this time are invited to ask themselves what the Lord is calling them to do or to become in this ever-evolving new media world. After a brief silence, each shares a reflection with the group. 4. Conclude this sharing with each person praying for the person on the right of him or her, perhaps reflecting what you heard shared by the person to your right. Allow me to share some of the phrases that are meaningful to me in this document, and why they remain so power-full: “Extraordinary potential”: I have walked the walk with young adults. What often amazes me is how they stay connected with their friends via IM, chat rooms, Facebook, Bebo, My Space, Text Messaging, Twitter, and more. The creative use of these digital tools by young adults is amazing. For example, imagine inviting thousands to join in a Dance for Peace, where at a certain time and place, those who have gathered all begin to dance for peace, with the music coming through the I-Pod ear buds. At the end, all head to their next destination. This has happened numerous times across the globe, simply by a young adult inviting others to join them via a Facebook announcement. Imagine what could happen if ministers would become comfortable with Facebook! What more could we do with this tool? continued on page 20 C AT E C H E T I C A L L E A D E R



continued from page 5

“Young people grasped enormous capacity of new media”: Regardless of age — 7 years, 12 years, 18 years, 21 years and more — our young people are more than comfortable with these digital tools. I was speaking with MaryAnn Houser, DRE at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Danbury, Connecticut, who was telling me about how their pastor initiated communicating with their “confirmandi” via email. All but two students had access to the Internet. Overall, these students were comfortable using email to communicate. And the wonderful surprise — they were excited to use the digital tools to communicate with their catechetical ministers. “Forming communities and networks”: I’ve heard young adults casually comment to senior members in their offices that if they do not have access to Facebook and other social networking tools, they will find a job elsewhere. Why? All through college these young adults have multi-tasked, in ways that were unimaginable to most of us over thirty-five, with friends and family using Facebook and other social networking tools. Their life blood is staying connected to the friends they’ve made during their college years. Facebook is neither a toy nor a hobby for them. It is a way of life. They have formed communities and networks that will travel with them for a lifetime — regardless of where these friends live. Gone are the days when communities are only located in the neighborhoods we live in. They are now global and international! “Sharing ideas and opinions”: Perhaps one of the major means of sharing ideas and opinions is via the blog medium. As I was reading “Caslon Analytics: Blogging” ( I was intrigued with this 2003 Perseus Development Company survey finding reported in the “The Blogging Iceberg”: Blogging is many things, yet the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life. It will be written very informally (often in “unicase”: long stretches of lowercase with ALL CAPS used for emphasis) with slang spellings, yet will not be as informal as instant messaging conversations (which are riddled with typos and abbreviations)… Teenagers have created the majority of blogs. Blogs are currently the province of the young, with 92.4% of blogs created by people under the age of 30. Half of bloggers are between the

ages of 13 and 19. Following this age group, 39.6% of bloggers are between the ages of 20 and 29. Overall, young people today, are comfortable in expressing their inner thoughts and feelings using the digital blogging format to express their ideas and opinions. What about some “faithsharing” where we encourage our young people to share their prayer and reflections via our parish blogs? “Fundamental desire: communication and relate”: The next time you are traveling by car anywhere with young people in the back seat, keep your ears tuned, not only to their conversations with one another, but listen for the click on the keyboard of their cell phones as they text and relate to friends who are not even in the car. They will use every means possible today to stay connected to their friends who just may be half-way across the globe! How can we stay connected via texting? “… seen primarily as a reflection of our participation in the communicative and unifying Love of God”: When I stop to imagine God’s power of communicative and unifying love, I become aware of the gift of our Gospels and Hebrew Scriptures. Each story, in its unique way, shares the gift of God in our lives. Digital storytelling is just one of the many options available to us today, to share the gift of the love of God for us. “Witness of their faith to the digital world”: Stop for a moment and remember the types of projects we have involved our students in to witness their faith — writing to share their insights and concerns to news editors regarding justice issues, serving a neighboring nursing home, or rolling up their sleeves to serve a poor community in the inner city. Today the digital world allows us to involve our students to witness their faith using digital tools. Here are a few options — set-up a class blog where confirmandi can share what they are doing to serve others and what this activity means for them; involve students to tell the story of your parish and what it means for them to be members using a digital storytelling format; create a video about ministries in their parish that will be posted on; or invite them to engage in sharing via a Facebook group page. We need to model how these tools can be used in an engaging, wholesome, and faith-filled way with our students. Perhaps, for some, it will be a surprise to see how these modern tools may be used in catechetical ministry.

20 July/August 2009


Volume 20, Number 4


In addition to these phrases, I would like to highlight that Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for Media Day identifies three areas in the new culture of communication: 

Ability to maintain contact across great distances  Accessibility to documents, sources and working collaboratively from different locations  Capacity to foster more dynamic forms of learning and communication




As we move towards integrating this digital culture into our ministry lives, as well as into our lives with family and friends, this is also the time to ask ourselves the following questions: 1. What opportunities and resources do we have in order to maintain contact across great distances? 2. How do we collaborate in order to shape and form a twentyfirst century parish where technology is an integral part of parish life and its formational components? 3. Whom do we collaborate with? Other formational ministries, youth ministers, RCIA coordinators, etc.? 4. How can we work collaboratively on e-learning projects that will benefit our constituents? 5. If we are not comfortable with any of these three areas in this new culture of communication (i.e., contact over distances, document accessibility and collaboration, and e-learning), what do we need to do to reach comfort? Who can mentor and teach us? Perhaps our children! 6. How will we advocate for the accessibility of digital tools for economically and socially marginalized and for catechetical ministers and students?

We need to model how these tools can be used in an engaging, wholesome, and faith-filled way. As we reflect on these questions, alone or with others — let us begin to identify what we will do to become more comfortable with this evolving digital communication world. It is time to add goals and objectives in your everyday planner so that you begin or continue this digital journey in order “… to learn to under-

stand and appreciate the opportunities it has to offer for communications” (Pope Benedict XVI). Some areas I would suggest: 

Invite a young adult to mentor you in using Facebook as a communications tool. Begin to explore how this tool can be integrated into your catechetical ministry with your parish catechetical ministers.  Learn how to create a social network and invite your peers, family, or friends to join you in the conversation. Here I would invite you to explore using a free tool called “Ning” ( in your catechetical ministry to create a social network. A “ning” example you may want to explore and perhaps join is  Go to where you can find a list of online training courses that are available for small fees. From the comfort of your home or office, you can gain skills in areas that you are interested in. Let the Spirit lead you to those classes that will enhance your current skill level! Whatever we do, be engaged in learning about the tools on your doorsteps. Your creativity and imagination will lead you to the digital tools that will enhance your ministry. It is also important to be a wholesome “digital citizen” and to learn how to communicate effectively and respectfully with others in this new digital world! To learn more about cyber-citizenship, go to where you will find references to assist you in this area. And share your story with others in ministry! It is time to support and collaborate with one another using these new tools! Of course — have fun learning at a pace that you are comfortable with. I invite you to join a social network I began that focuses on “Digital Catechesis” ( It is the place where you can share your stories, questions, and more with those of us who are interested in enhancing our catechetical ministry using twenty-first century tools. Today, we are in a global village where we can share with and nurture one another using these twentyfirst century tools. Together, we will create and form catechetical ministries that fit the needs of our twenty-first century Digital Natives. Let’s walk into this new world together! Caroline Cerveny, SSJ, D. Min., president of Interactive Connections (, specializes in online catechist/ministry formation and the applications of new media to adult and youth evangelization and formation. She would like to hear your comments at

21 C AT E C H E T I C A L L E A D E R

New Technologies, New Relationships  

Feature article for the July/August 2009 - Volume 20, Number 4 issue of Catechetical Leader, publication for the National Conference for Cat...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you