New Media Missionary
20-Something convert explores the ‘digital continent’
Brandon Vogt is young, Catholic and connected, and he is helping to bring the Gospel into the digital age. His recently published book, “The Church and New Media” (Our Sunday Visitor) tells the story of “Blogging Converts, Online Activists and Bishops Who Tweet.” It also gives advice on how average Catholics can make their own contributions to spreading the faith through social media.
The book includes an introduction by popular blogger Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, and an afterword by another blogging prelate, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.
(It also has two pages about Fathers for Good, pages 180-81!)
Vogt, 25, is a convert to Catholicism, having entered the Church three years ago. A mechanical engineer, he lives with his wife, Kathleen, in Casselberry, Florida, where they are bringing up their 2-year-old boy and year-old girl.
Vogt spoke with Fathers for Good about his book and new media mission.
Fathers for Good: Why a book on Catholic new media?
Vogt: Before I put the book together, I had been blogging for about five years. I saw the power blogs had to invite dialogue and unique points of view, and as a 25-year old, I was absorbed in the online worlds of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I could also point to a number of Catholics already using them well.
But when I looked at the global Church – especially her institutional arm – I saw a different picture. Most dioceses, parishes, and individual Catholics were either ambivalent toward new media, brushing it off as a fad, or scared of its dangers, afraid that engaging these tools would attract negativity.
So I wanted to use my own expertise, along with that of other Catholics, to echo John Paul II: “Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid of new technologies!”
The book was written to provide Catholics with example, encouragement and guidance on this strange digital continent.
Fathers for Good: Having Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Dolan must be a big thrill. What were some other high points of working on the book?
Vogt: You hit the nail on the head. The best part about this book was collaborating with so many personal heroes. When you look down the table of contents you see a who’s who of the online Catholic world, a veritable Dream Team of thinkers, writers and innovators.
Another great part was connecting with many Catholics with similar passions. We have eleven main contributors and highlight more than 20 others in the book’s sidebars, which means we’ve gathered more than 30 Catholics who think new media is a really important part of the Church’s mission.
As a whole, the Church is still behind the times when it comes to new media. But there are plenty of shining examples throughout the digital continent, and it was a joy to feature many of them in the book.
Fathers for Good: Tell about your own upbringing. What has been your biggest influence in the faith?
Vogt: I grew up in a Presbyterian church, though it never really took hold throughout my adolescence. When I went off to college in 2004, I fell in with a Methodist campus ministry and had some profound conversion experiences. I began studying the Bible, leading small groups, preaching sermons, and by the end of my junior year, was seriously considering seminary to become a pastor.
But during my senior year, some providential connections led me to explore Catholicism. Throughout the year, many things converged to eventually draw me into the Church – the Eucharist, Catholic social teaching, the holiness of the saints, the richness of Tradition, the staunchness of her moral teachings, and the beauty of her spirituality. And on Easter 2008, I entered the Catholic Church, kicking off an incredible adventure that still boggles my mind.
In my three years as a Catholic, I’ve been influenced by a number of people, both living and dead. Pope Benedict XVI, Father Robert Barron, and Dr. Peter Kreeft have shaped my mind. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati have shaped my soul. Besides those, thousands of other saints have left their fingerprints on me.
Fathers for Good: We talk about the John Paul II Generation – yet most young people are not church-goers. How can you reach your own 20-somethings?
Vogt: One of the things we do in the book is juxtapose new media against the Church’s outreach to young people. Quite simply, young adults are the most distant demographic from the Church. Surveys show that they are the least likely to pray, read the Bible, attend Mass, or engage their faith in any serious way.
But at the same time, these young adults are also the most active on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. So in my mind, new media is a timely gift from God. It provides the Church a powerful way to connect with those hardest to reach.
New media isn’t the end-all solution to this problem. It can’t provide grace through the sacraments nor can it promote spiritual disciplines by itself. But it can spark a renewed interest in Catholicism, it can connect young people with parish life, and it can introduce the Catholic message in spheres that otherwise would never hear it. And that’s why new media is a central component of the New Evangelization.
Fathers for Good: Where do you take you message from here?
Vogt: Right now, my main focus is on getting as many Catholics as I can to understand and harness the power of new media. I’m giving talks, writing articles, and helping bishops, dioceses, parishes, and individuals as much as I can. I’m convinced that we’ve barely scratched the surface of these tools. New media has explosive power for the Church’s mission – evangelization, formation, community, and justice. We just need more people to light the fuse, and that’s what I’m trying to help.