Cardinal blogs from Rome to the world

Photos from document the cardinal’s current trip to Rome. Swiss Guards salute Cardinal O’Malley as he passes through the Vatican gates. Pilot photo

BOSTON -- From advice on how to live a life of prayer to descriptions of casual encounters with American tourists, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley’s latest effort to communicate with his flock is making a splash both here in Boston and in cyberspace.

The cardinal is documenting his most recent trip to Rome with a Web log or “blog” launched for the occasion:

“It was suggested I use a blog to communicate with everyone but primarily with young people, to speak to them in their own media,” the cardinal told The Pilot in a Sept. 26 telephone interview.

He said he was amazed to learn earlier this year how many people had followed events of the March consistory via the Internet.

“It has not been my practice to bring people to Rome, but I thought I could share some of the experiences of this trip with Boston Catholics over the Internet,” he said.

The cardinal’s 11-day trip to Rome features two main events. On Sept. 23 he served as the homilist and main celebrant at the anniversary Mass of St. Padre Pio. The event brought together over 10,000 people at the Capuchin monastery at San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy.

On Oct. 1, the cardinal will take possession of his titular Church in Rome, Santa Maria della Vittoria (Our Lady of the Victory).

While in Rome he is also meeting with the prefects of several Vatican congregations and said he is hoping to meet the new secretary of state, Tarsicio Bertone.

The cardinal’s first blog entries have been casual, reminiscent postcards home. Entries include his personal preferences for European travel, airplane food and recounting conversations with the Lufthansa flight crew on their pride at having a German pope.

While keeping its casual form -- the entries are peppered with anecdotes that frequently end with “lol,” Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud” -- as the days have progressed the blog has taken a more pedagogical tone. References to the lives of the saints, Church history and Roman architecture are increasingly finding their way into the cardinal’s posts.

In an entry posted four days into the new endeavor, Cardinal O’Malley admitted that the blog “takes a bit of time,” although he called the experience “amusing.”

“I feel like I’m on some reality television show on,” he wrote.

Though it may not quite be a reality television show, the cardinal seems to have attracted an audience to his online postings. According to the archdiocese, as of Sept. 27, the blog had racked-up more than 60,000 visits and a Google News search indicates its launch has been reported in places as far as India and Australia.

As might be expected Catholic bloggers are weighing in on the initiative and the reaction has largely been positive.

In his blog, Jeff Miller analyzes one of the cardinal’s latest posts.

“Seán Cardinal O’Malley moves beyond photoblogging with a great post of spiritual catechesis and commentary on the saints -- especially Padre Pio. With all of the media attention of his blog I was hoping he would expand it beyond just photos with travel commentary. This post does that in droves,” Miller wrote.

Massachusetts blogger Domenico Bettinelli Jr, welcomed the initiative and offered the cardinal some advice:

“I think for it to be effective at connecting the cardinal directly with the people without the filter of the mainstream media, he should keep blogging and use it to write about controversies that arise,” he wrote.

Reader comments on the cardinal’s blog offer another avenue of feedback, some from unlikely sources.

“I’m about as far from being Catholic as possible --in fact, I’ll be going to a Rosh Hashanah dinner tonight. I am looking forward to reading what he writes. I’m not sure if it’s been done before, but I think this is really cool,” one reader comment said.

Another comment seems to indicate that the cardinal is achieving his goal of reaching younger Catholics.

“As a young person today it is good to see high profile people such as yourself going out of your way to get your message out to the people. It seems only natural to have the teachings of the Church spread in the most efficient and democratic means possible, I can imagine all the Apostles would have had a blog if they were around today,” the comment said.

Speaking to The Pilot, the cardinal was unclear as for the future of the blog experience. He said this blog was designed primarily to share his trip to Rome and that he is not sure about how much he will continue blogging in the future.

“That remains to be seen at this time,” he said.

But speaking of the media attention generated by this initiative, the cardinal stressed the importance of complementing traditional Catholic media presence’s like The Pilot or Boston Catholic Television with the new media tools that are rapidly becoming mainstream for the new generations of Catholics.

“This experience clearly indicates that, as a Church, we need to use the Internet more,” he said.

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