New Catholic website for young people gets 30 to 50 questions a day.
With youth leaving the Catholic Church en masse, Father Mario Salvadori has launched a "radical" parish website to stem the urge to flee.
"We aren't using technology enough to evangelize," said Salvadori, pastor at Thornhill, Ont.'s St. Joseph the Worker Parish, who says the vast majority of Catholics are leaving the Church by the time they're in Grade 12.
"In other words, we can no longer afford to be a one-product Church, where if you don't come to Mass we've lost communication with you, we've lost contact with you, we no longer have the ability to evangelize you or to reach you or to activate the Holy Spirit in you because you don't come to Mass and that's all we have to offer."
So Salvadori believes youth will best respond to the Catholic message if the medium of communication is one they prefer – visually high tech.
In developing the new site (www.stjw.ca), popular high-tech websites like CNN and MTV were compared, said Salvadori. During a five-month needs analysis, St. Joseph the Worker parishioners were asked what they would like to see from the website.
"What do people need to continue to have a relationship with the Catholic Church?" Salvadori asked. "How do we maintain a relationship with them?"
Vlad Mamaradlo, lay youth pastor at the parish, says in online content young people want to see accomplishments of Catholicism they can be proud of, inspiration and hope to strengthen their faith and clarity and balance of Church teachings.
"Most Catholic bishops and priests don't have digital evangelization as a priority, I believe, in part because they find it intimidating. It's not their language. How many 60-to-70 year olds tweet, instagram, etc.?" said Mamaradlo.
"I believe that the future of Catholic media will be a grassroots movement, coming from the minority of the lay baptized who do take their faith seriously and are passionate about making Jesus Christ known and loved to others in a language they are well familiar with."
It took four months to develop and program the website. Web developer Silentblast Interactive billed the parish at cost for the site.
At the price of $20,000, the answer to Salvadori's questions and parishioner's requests manifested into www.stjw.ca, a two portal website with one portal for kids age 12 and under and another portal for youth and adults age 13 and older. Each portal has a spinning carousel of eight videos that change weekly.
But Salvadori and his team are having a difficult time finding Catholic-made video content to fill the carousel, calling it almost "impossible" to find such content on YouTube.
"This is a failure on the part of the Church, and I know the Church doesn't like the word 'failure.' It prefers things like 'We aren't there yet, we're trying to use technology and we're coming around.' In my opinion, we're failing by not being in the YouTube world," said Salvadori.
Pentecostal and Protestant content are far easier to find, so St. Joseph the Worker parish is creating its own content to accompany the other Christian content filling its carousel.
The website also includes Christian music and a FAQ section where users can ask questions about the faith. Salvadori says the site receives 30 to 50 questions a day and says he will need to hire a team to respond.
The website is an extension of St. Joseph the Worker's other high-tech renovations, such as wireless Internet available throughout the building, a pulpit wired for a laptop and projectors and screens to incorporate visuals during Mass.
"I feel primarily like I'm a manager of a sacramental shopping mall where they come shopping for Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, weddings and funerals. And that's what I am.
"I don't want to feel that way, so we have to stop this shopping experience at the parish."