The Vatican is inviting Internet bloggers to Rome next month for an unprecedented meeting to foster “informal exchange and contact.”
The May 2 event aims to take advantage of the influx of international bloggers coming to Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II a day earlier.
While all are invited to apply, only a limited number of blogging attendees will receive a formal invitation. The objective of the Vatican departments organizing the event is to fill the 150-seat St. Pius X auditorium with a group representing the diversity of the “blogosphere.”
Participants will be selected with reference to the timeliness of request, blog subject and the language and geographical location of the blogger. Attention will also be given to the nature of blogs as institutional or private, multi-voice or personal.
The encounter marks a first for the Church, which has put emphasis on opening up channels with new media platforms through a series initiatives in recent years.
The Vatican has only gradually entered social networks, setting up YouTube and Facebook accounts for the Pope and even promoting John Paul II's May 1 beatification through Twitter.
The Holy See's relationship with blogs, however, has been a little more prickly. During a press conference to present Pope Benedict XVI's message for World Social Communication's Day last January, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli decried “aggressive blog sites that excommunicate and don't have a Christian style of presence.”
While it was not clear to which Church-themed blogs he referred, he said that Internet users needed to approach blogs with an eye on “to what point they are truly Catholic.”
But the May 2 event aims give bloggers and Church representatives a chance to move beyond the relatively impersonal medium of the Internet and establish a more personal connection.
According to an April 7 statement from the two Vatican departments in charge, the objective is “to allow for a dialogue between bloggers and Church representatives, to listen to the experiences of those who are actively involved in this arena, and to achieve a greater understanding of the needs of that community.”
During the one-day meeting, Church initiatives to engage those who work in new media will be presented and panel discussions will be held.
The first panel will include five bloggers representing the Italian, English, French, Polish and Spanish languages, respectively. Each of the five will take on a specific subject relevant to the blogosphere.
A second panel of still unannounced Church communications personnel will offer their experiences in new media and look at initiatives meant to engage bloggers.
Interpreters will be on hand to provide simultaneous translation for the five chosen languages.
Vatican representatives taking part in the encounter include Archbishop Celli of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, director of the Holy See's Press Office, Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center.
According to the Vatican statement announcing the initiative, the organizers see the meeting as “an opportunity for informal exchange and contact between those attending with a view to opening further avenues of interaction.”