A New Venture on the Internet

by Victor Hoagland, C.P.

Fr Victor Hoagland, C.P.The Internet is one of the greatest advances in communication in the century. How it grows and where it takes us eventually are unpredictable. But one thing is sure: it will change the way we learn and relate.

Some unique opportunities for ministry exist in this new media. Vast and complex, the Net is a global marketplace where one easily gets lost. Experts say people are using it to search for religious meaning as well as for home-shopping and airline schedules.

As it grows, then, religious resource sites -- guides, search engines, "cyber churches" -- must be there to help them find religious information they are searching for.

Passionists, along with others, can create some of these sites now. And since the Net is a "young" media (young people are a great part of its public), we may also be establishing a future for ourselves as well as for the future of the church.

Beginnings are important. What can we do as we start . . .?

That's what we at Passionist Publications here in Union City have begun to do. For about a year now, on the Net we have offered publications like "Compassion" magazine, our various prayer books and inspirational material. They're available worldwide everyday, night and day.

How It Started

Our introduction to the Internet began with a phone call. A former parishioner of St. Joseph's Church (a Passionist mission in Paris for the English-speaking) called me. Fr. Paul Francis Spencer, pastor of that church and author of a recent biography of St. Paul of the Cross, had asked her to get in touch with me.

She had already started putting up material on the World Wide Web, the part of the Internet that gets most publicity because of its pictures and searchable information. We agreed that Christians and others were on the Internet, looking for high quality, worthwhile religious information. The more good sites available on the Web, we reasoned, the easier it would be for people to find good sites to visit. So we made a start.

The Process Begins

But first, it made sense to start with material we already had available. So, beginning with the Spring 1996 issue of "Compassion," each issue was put on the website.

By "each issue," we mean that, for the most part, every article and illustrations (as much as possible). Sometimes, though, we use photos in the so-called 'printed' issue of the magazine that we do not have permission to publish electronically. In that case, because we may substitute a "public domain" or "royalty-free" illustration, we do. In fact, because of the low cost of publishing on the Net , "Compassion" can even more lavishly be illustrated "On-Line" than in its printed edition.

There are some additional features of "Compassion" On-Line: For example, the Winter, 1997 issue featured the topic of "Aging." In the Internet edition, some excellent on-line resources are "linked" to these pages, including a scholarly article on the sociology of aging, and practical resources for seniors and their care-givers.

What's a Link?

A "link" works like this: Usually the text will describe a little bit about the material that's available on another site. Then, instead of having to find the site on your own, Voila! Simply by using a mouse or a keyboard, you "surf" quickly through cyberspace to the new site and its treasures of new information.

Links are helpful within sites, too. For example, the Passionist Retreat in Mandeville, Jamaica,West Indies has a website -- and that website links to various articles about Jamaican life that have appeared in "Compassion" written by Richard Leary, Paul Zilonka and other Passionist missionaries.

Prayers of All Kinds

Besides "Compassion" magazine, we have published a wide range of materials on prayer: morning and evening prayers for each day, prayers in sickness, seasonal material for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, prayers for small children, plus some short instructions on how to pray based on the Catholic Catechism.

Monitor with Passionist Home Page
The home page of the World Wide Web edition of The Passion of Jesus Christ,
by Donald Senior, C.P., displayed on a computer monitor

Passionist Material on the Net

Because we are Passionists, devoted to the Passion of Jesus, we are developing a site centered on this great mystery of Christ. Launched in mid-June, 1997, the site has its cornerstone in a new book by Donald Senior, C.P. on the Passion of Jesus, which offers the Gospels of the Passion, a commentary on the Gospels, archeological references and a basic bibliography for a general audience. It also contains meditations and prayers on various aspects of this central mystery of faith. Traffic to the site grows week by week, and we expect interest will increase dramatically by Lent, 1998.

Our goal over the next few years is to add new materials to this site and to make it the preferred place where people from many different levels find material on the Passion of Jesus -- from the scholar looking for the latest bibliography, to the religion teacher seeking materials to teach third-graders, to the inquirer looking for the meaning of a great work of art or music that has caught his/her attention.

We expect the site to become an open-ended, multi-lingual, on-line encyclopedia on the Passion of Jesus, and eventually benefiting our own ministries as well as a worldwide community.

Passionist Sites Worldwide

At the same time, we are not neglecting our Congregation worldwide. With the permission of Australian Father Chris Monaghan, C.P., many of the materials he first developed for the Web about the Congregation are also available from our server in the United States. We also try to provide a complete listing of other Passionist ministries on the Web, checking and updating the list often.

On the Passionist International Site are links to information about our Passionist saints and to Passionist sites from Australia, Japan, Italy (the Shrine of St. Gabriel) and other places.

From our part of the world, there are links to Holy Cross province, Passionist Communications (Pelham, NY), St. Ann Media (Scranton, PA), Stauros USA, the Passionist Nuns of Erlanger and Whitesville, KY, the Passionist Volunteers and Passionist Lay Missioners.

Sites like these will grow as other Passionist units around the world go on-line. This Passionist sampler alone helps one see the prospects of this new media.

On-line, too, we have had a Passionist Publications catalogue, which offers an opportunity for people to obtain published editions of our material by e-mail.

What's Ahead?

Truly, only God knows. Every day, someone is working on part of our material on the Internet -- revising, making additions, correcting. Soon we hope to start on a series of biographies of the saints. And on the horizon, a "virtual retreat center," where people could stop in to taste Passionist spiritual teaching which has benefited so many who have participated in our missions and retreats over the years.

Good News Travels

Every morning we can check a log that records visits to each part of our site -- and the area of the world from which the browser is coming.

We're not interested in learning who these individuals are. But it has been encouraging to see that the site has reached at least 60 countries so far. Visitors come from Singapore to Sweden to South Africa; from Kuwait to Canada to Cayman Islands. The logs record visits from Latvia and Lithuania -- even from Mauritius. Our sites are receiving heavy traffic.

Recently, our site on "Prayer" was listed by Yahoo, a major search engine on the Net, as a new site on prayer on the Net. A surprising number of people from all over the world come to visit because of their interest in prayer.

An Ingenious Love?

Everyone has heard warnings about the Net, about the poisons of pornography and false information that are found there. They are warnings well-taken. On the other hand, it seems we hear little about the wonderful potential the Net provides for proclaiming the Gospel world-wide. Can it become a new vehicle for ingenious Christian love?

The Net is still a small player among the giants of mass media. Cyberspace and computer communications still seem a luxury or a troublesome mystery to many. But the Internet seems destined to play a significant role as a means of worldwide communication.

Thus, it is a place where the Gospel should be. And that is reason enough to work there. The seed is being planted. The harvest will come.

Checking out the Web for yourself

When we're not admiring our own extensive site, the Web has lots of opportunities to inform and entertain. Here are just a few recommendations:

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