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*Recent contributors include: Judex Acking in Mauritius, Estefania Aguirre, George Aitken, Lord Alton, Beki Bateson, Clare Bergin, Dan Bergin, Giovanna Bianchi in Italy, Naomi Billingsley, Canon Pat Browne, Anita Boniface, Fleur Brennan, Philip Burke, Paul Burnell, Mary Carson, William Carson, Philip Crispin, Sarah Cutforth, William Dalrymple, Fintan Deere, Rima Devereaux, Santosh Digal in the Philippines, Frances Dodd, Paul Donovan, Mark Dowd, Ann Dunhill, Victor Edwin SJ in India, Robert Ewan, Eileen French, Paul Forsythe, Violet Ganda in South Africa, Fr Robin Gibbons, Michael Glackin, Elizabeth Glancy, Julia Gregory, Frank Jomo, Jyoti Lama Khanal, Fr James Leachman OSB, Fr Clive Lee, Jane Lowe, Sr Mary, Fr Wilfrid McGreal O. Carm, Sr Mary, Joe McNally, Judy Masters, Pearl Mina, Morrisey, Francis Njuguna in Kenya, Terry Philpott, Sister Gillian Price, Jo-Anne Rowney, Peter Scally SJ, Fr Giovanni Scudiero, Citra Sidhu, Sr Gemma Simmonds IBVM, Linda Simpson, Christopher Sleight, Fr Terry Tastard, Ellen Teague, Rebecca Tinsley, Kathryn Turner, Estefania Aguirre Wachter, Mike Walsh, Ann Widdecombe.
The following article about ICN was published in Bible Alive magazine in February 2004
Independent Catholic News is the first daily on-line Catholic news service in the UK. Set up and run in 2000 by a group of Catholic journalists, it provides the latest news from home and abroad, as well as spiritual reflections, a Saint of the Day, reviews, listings, links and letters.
Editor Josephine Siedlecka explains how it got started. St Francis of Assisi is supposed to have once said that it was the duty of every Christian to spread the Gospel every hour of the day and night - "and sometimes you need to use words". I guess it was that idea that made me think about setting up Independent Catholic News.
In the run-up to the Millennium year, Tertio Millennio Adveniente had called on lay people to play a greater role in the work of the Church. We studied the document in a series of meetings in my parish and as a Catholic journalist working in the mainstream press, I began thinking about how I could use my writing skills to spread the Good News. While working on the newsdesk of the London Evening Standard, I kept coming across stories involving Christians of all denominations working in the community that, I felt, were not getting the promotion they deserved.
I remember once there was a call from someone in a group of around 6,000 pensioners in the East End of London who were campaigning to get some compensation for losing their television reception - because of the massive development around Canary Wharf. The person helping them get organised was a Catholic nun - Sr Christine - who travelled around the area on a bicycle. (It made a good picture too).
Another day I met Fr Shay Cullen - a Columban priest working in the Philippines, who has been nominated for a Nobel peace prize for his work with street children and his battles to change the laws so that tourists who abused children abroad, could be prosecuted in their home countries.
One weekend I met a junior football team from Angola, sponsored by CAFOD, that was made up of players who had been boy soldiers. I also spent an afternoon in the Langham Hotel drinking tea with the Irish singer Daniel O'Donnell and an evening discussing art with the royal portrait painter Michael Noakes - both committed Catholics.
One thing all these different stories had in common was that they were about people with faith. They weren't preaching but they were all living out the Gospels using their different gifts to make a contribution to the world. I began to envisage a news agency specialising in Catholic world and home news, diocesan information and listings, reports from the missions, as well the human interest stories.
I hoped they would appeal to a wider readership then just church-going Catholics. At first the idea seemed very daunting. An agency would need an office, equipment and staff. How would it all be funded? Who would work there? How would we find and send out the news? I asked everyone's advice, even going to Cardinal Hume with my plan. That was shortly before his last illness. He was very kind and advised me to persevere. During our short meeting I remember he said: "This idea has considerable merit."
A few months later I began using the Internet and realised that it might be possible to set something up without much equipment or even an office. Web design agencies I approached were rather expensive. But there were classes available too. And I had friends with a lot of IT experience willing to help.
I took a short course in website design in the summer of 1999, and in the following spring, together with journalists Christy Lawrance and Chris Brooks, started to build the ICN website.
On the evening of 9 May 2000 we posted up our first news bulletins. For the next year we were just able to update the site twice a week after our day jobs. We couldn't afford to advertise ourselves, but gradually more and more people began logging on. In between writing news we sent out e-mails asking people whether they'd like to link up with us and the response was encouraging. Within a very short space of time, messages started arriving from around the world encouraging us in our work. The Poor Clares of Narvik in Norway were the very first.
Early on the Sacred Space prayer site in Dublin agreed to set up reciprocal links. I began exchanging e-mails with a young seminarian, Peter Scally, who had designed their site. We met quite by accident at a mutual friend's house in London some months later. Peter lives here now too. He was ordained last year and now works in a parish in Southall. We keep in touch and he has been very helpful offering technical advice and support.
Many more people have joined the team of volunteers helping us get out the news. They include tv journalist Mary Carson, (who lives a few doors up the road from me); writer Joe McNally, Christopher Sleight from the BBC and reporter Frances Dodd. Dozens more people regularly send in news reports from around the world. On September 11 the Daughters of Charity in New York sent us a report about their work in a homeless shelter which had been converted into a temporary refuge for people in shock who had fled the bombed area. During the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem we had on the spot reports by mobile phone from peace campaigners there. In the last two weeks the photo-journalist Carlos Reyes Manzo has sent us a series of dramatic eyewitness reports from Iraq.
We are expecting to receive some stories written by children at the St Paul's missionary community in the Turkana desert in Kenya. We've also received excellent reports from schools and youth organisations in the UK. Noelle Griffin, deputy head at a London school keeps us posted about many school and youth events - including the Bright Lights and Youth 2000 festivals. Mike Morrissey sends us news from the north of England. Jane Jones sends us ecumenical news from the Midlands. All the dioceses, aid agencies and religious organisations send us their official press releases. Besides publishing news on the site, we also run an e-mail service which is especially useful for people in the developing world who may have trouble accessing the internet because of a shortage of electricity.
We know a school in India and a seminary in Nairobi print our news and Saint of the Day each day - and put it on their noticeboards. Although we still have very limited resources and are putting the site together in our spare time - we have now received some donations from individuals, religious orders and trusts that have helped pay for equipment and bills. We are also starting to carry a few small adverts. And every so often our stories get picked up by the nationals. Vatican Radio interviewed me the other day about ICN. They have begun regularly quoting from our news. We've also made friends with the Catholic Information Service of Africa in Nairobi - with whom we regularly swap stories, and an Australian Catholic News Service often quotes our news. At the moment the site is being run from my flat in North London. At some point in the near future we may start looking for some office space.
My home is beginning to overflow with computer equipment and paperwork. We are also thinking about re-organising the website, adding more pictures and a few other features. But I want to always keep the design simple, so that it can be quickly downloaded by people anywhere in the world. And my main concern will always be to try to provide the most comprehensive news service we can.
We chose the patron saints of journalists as our patrons: St Francis of Sales and Maximilian Kolbe. They were both prolific writers. St Francis said: "You can catch more flies with a spoonful of honey that you can with a bucket of vinegar" - which I try to remember.
St Maximilian was a Polish Franciscan priest who set up a Catholic publishing house and newspapers in Poland and Japan. he died in Auszwitz when he swapped places with a young married man with children. The Vatican is supposed to be naming a patron saint for computers. I hope they choose one soon - because the technical side of running a website can be hair-raising at times. Independent Catholic News has had more than a quarter of a million visits so far. It can be found at: http://www.indcatholicnews.com.
We have applied for charity status. If you would like to support our work you can contribute to the site on-line or send cheques to ICN, 147A Leighton Road, London NW5 2RB.
1. During the Second Vatican Council, the document Inter Mirifica stressed the need for good and accurate reporting. It said: "There exists within human society a right to information about affairs which affect men individually and collectively and according to the circumstances of each. The proper exercise of this right, demands that the matter communicated always be true, and as complete as charity and justice allow.''
2. In 2003 Pope John Paul II issued two documents, encouraging Catholics to use the Internet, but warning of its dangers. "Ethics in Internet" and "The Church and Internet" In a statement entitled: "The Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel" written for World Communication Day 2002, the Pope said: "The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet... From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? ....For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption....This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man." He says: "I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world "the glory of God on the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). "In these troubled times, how can we ensure that this wondrous instrument first conceived in the context of military operations can now serve the cause of peace? Can it favour that culture of dialogue, participation, solidarity and reconciliation without which peace cannot flourish?" "The Church believes it can; and to ensure that this is what will happen, she is determined to enter this new forum, armed with the Gospel of Christ, the Prince of Peace." Archbishop John Foley, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said the Internet was "an opportunity and a challenge not a threat." The Archbishop said that the Vatican's message about the Internet aims to "emphasise that the Catholic church, along with other religious bodies, should have a visible, active presence on the Internet and be a partner in the public dialogue about its development." Pope urges Christian media workers to use the net
18 December 2008
Pope Benedict yesterday urged media workers to unite in their efforts to proclaim the Gospel to modern internet users.
"Today the internet calls for a growing integration of written, audio and visual communications and therefore challenges the media at the service of the Holy See to enlarge and intensify their collaboration," the Pope told workers at the Vatican Television Centre.
The meeting marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the centre, which is responsible for filming papal events, making documentaries and providing them to television outlets around the world.
Pope Benedict said the Church "cannot allow its message to be outside the spaces in which numerous young people navigate in search of answers and of meaning for their lives, you must seek ways to spread voices and images of hope in new formats."
Although the Vatican Television Centre has a small staff and limited resources, Pope Benedict said: "Many people, thanks to your work, can feel closer to the heart of the Church."
For centuries pilgrims having been coming to Rome each year to see the Pope, he said, and "today this desire can be satisfied, at least in part, thanks to radio and television."
Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, who directs the television centre, the Vatican press office and Vatican Radio, said almost every television image of the Pope seen around the world was filmed by the Vatican Television Centre.
"Even if they are watching RAI (in Italy), Bayerische Rundfunk (in Germany) or CNN, we are the origin in almost every case," Fr Lombardi said.
Fr Lombardi thanked Pope Benedict for allowing the Vatican camera operators to shadow his every public move, but he said that being there with the camera rolling "is our job. It is our obligation. We do it with passion and joy."
Vatican press chief encourages use of new media
Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 11:29 pm
Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, Director of the Holy See's media operations, encouraged communicators to meet the challenge of using the internet to engage positively to further the Gospel message, in his address to journalists at Allen Hall in London on Monday.
In a lecture to mark World Communications Day (falling this year on Sunday, 24 May), Fr Lombardi echoed Pope Benedict XVI's call for the Church to speak to 'the digital generation':
"One of the biggest challenges facing us at present is that of interactivity, and, I would say, of 'positive interactivity'. How ought we to tackle this challenge at all levels of the Church's life? For me specifically, the challenge presents itself to the communications efforts of the Holy See, and our experience at Vatican Radio comes to mind. In recent years the internet has been for us an important tool that has made it possible for us to deliver content to countless users of all kinds. Now, however, the reality of the situation that is emerging is one in which the great thing is not simply content distribution, but greater and greater interactivity."
The full text of Fr Federico Lombardi's address, "Blessed be the Net?" A Roman perspective on the problems of new communications, can be found at: http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20090520_1.htm