By Rashae Ophus Johnson

Pope inspires Alaska's Catholic bloggers


As his college newspaper grew increasingly leftist, then-student Joseph Koss helped launch a campus newspaper with a conservative perspective. Fast-forward five years through law school, a revival of his faith and a move from the Detroit metro area to the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska in late 2009, and Koss was struck by the realization that again he’d lost his voice. This time he launched a blog, “Defend Us in Battle.”

“I was never really a writer. I don’t really even consider writing a strong point. I’m more of a commentator, trying to send a message,” Koss told the Catholic Anchor. “I’m trained as a lawyer. I’m trying to present facts and arguments to convince people of new ideas, or old. I’m an advocate of the faith.”

With the Vatican now embracing social media and the U.S. bishops galvanizing the populace to speak out in defense of the church, cyberspace is ripe for evangelization. The Web delivers a pulpit and a boundless audience to bloggers like Koss on the Kenai Peninsula, and Tiffany Borges and Mindy Goorchenko in the Anchorage area.

They feel called to counter the pervasive misinformation, anti-Catholicism and immorality that’s competing for followers among the same worldwide audience, and they all feel inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s recent urging for the faithful to utilize the Internet as an untapped frontier.

“Our Holy Father encourages us to do it (blog), to be Catholic online and to use the social networking sites for evangelization, and to share our joy and provide another voice in what can be such a degrading place,” said Goorchenko, a nurse and mother of five young children who still feels it is important to make the time to regularly blog.

“When I don’t feel like posting anything, I definitely feel motivated by Pope Benedict’s encouragement to keep doing it, to fulfill that mandate,” she said.

“We need to bring a soul to the Internet,” expounded Borges, whose new blog “Lox Populi” was picked up in its infancy by New Advent, a compilation of noteworthy Catholic blogs worldwide.

“Catholicism has to have a forum there (online),” Borges added. “If we’re silent about topics that are uncomfortable or delicate, then the other side — for lack of a better word — wins.”

Proselytizing online is simultaneously simple and daunting. Anyone can publish a blog, but to preach publicly about theology and church doctrine is to assume a certain amount of authority and accountability. One could be wrong. Or, one could be right and suffer the consequences.

Some of Borges’ relatives defriended her on Facebook. A priest rebuked Koss. But other priests have reposted his blog, and his writings have tallied up to 121,000 views.

“The hardest part is making sure that what I’m doing is godly and benefiting Christ, the church, the pope and my fellow Catholics,” Koss said. “Every blogger wants readers and has personal and ego-driven reasons for writing because they think what they have to say is important. When you’re dealing with the faith, you have an even higher calling, a higher duty and a higher responsibility.”

“It’s inevitable that the new evangelism will happen there (in blogs and social media),” Goorchenko said. “When I see somebody reach my blog from a country like China or Vietnam or a place that is hostile toward Christianity, that is very exciting to me.”

These emerging bloggers spread the Word in different voices. Borges’ “Lox Populi”, — the title is a play on the Latin words vox populi (voice of the people) with a nod to her love for lox — is witty and sassy yet jovial, a style she describes as “barroom apologetics.” She created the blog in January in part to continue the fun she experienced writing a Christmas letter. While her blog title and tone may be playful, in two months Borges has tackled rabble rousing topics from the Pill and feminism to homosexuality.

“There are moments when I think, ‘This is too crass or too scrappy,’ but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I believe it will be OK,” she said.

Koss, who grew up in a non-practicing Catholic family and rediscovered Catholicism at Ave Maria School of Law, mostly analyzes current events from a “militantly Catholic” viewpoint.

He strives to be a “warrior” blogging with a sincere desire to save souls, if even just one. The masthead of his “Defend Us in Battle” page features Saint Michael the Archangel and an ominous scriptural quotation.

One popular post of his in 2010 opened with, “We are at WAR. This is not puffery. Our souls and the souls of those that we love are in mortal peril.”

More recently, he posted, “I write what I believe, and I try and make sure that I align those beliefs with the heart of Christ and the mind of the church.”

Goorchenko takes an inviting personal approach to “The Devout Life” blog, infusing the fellowship of a neighborhood Bible study or parish social.

Since converting to Catholicism in 2009, the practiced “mommy blogger” fairly recently shifted from anecdotes about her five children to reflections on Catholic life.

She started “The Devout Life” as an outlet to share her observations while reading “Introduction to the Devout Life,” a manual by Saint Francis de Sales about living devoutly and growing in virtue while busy raising a family.

A recent post described her family’s commitment to forego electricity on “Wilderness Wednesdays” during Lent. Her blog currently functions as a virtual reading club discussing Vatican II documents.

“Many people who are curious about the church are not going to step into one. I write it for not only Catholics but non-Catholics who may be open-minded and interested in learning about the Catholic faith and spirituality,” Goorchenko said. “My purpose is to present a window into the daily life of a Catholic to explore how we live in the world without being of the world, and to convey the joy of being a Catholic and encountering Christ and the sacraments.”

Borges, a 2005 convert, said lay bloggers are uniquely suited for evangelization. Priests have an established following, but they must evaluate the risk of alienating members if their homilies are too austere. Journalists are censored by editors and media conglomerates. Bloggers, however, are unrestrained.

“This is a serious role,” Borges said. “If it’s not useful to someone, then it’s just detracting from time with my family and promoting my own opinion.”

Goorchenko agreed. “We have to remember that there’s a person on the other side (of the screen) who is using this technology to feel connected and find meaning in life. If we can make ourselves available in that strange online space that is still relatively new to everyone, we have a special opportunity to connect with that human being and bring Christ to that person in some way,” she said. “It’s a whole new frontier.”

Posted with permission from the Catholic Anchor, official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Alaska.