CCC chairperson finds media a two-day street

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Tue, May 27th 2014 11:00 am

Father Leon Biernat can remember years back, when he was director of Vocations for the Diocese of Buffalo, attending a workshop on communications. He learned to communicate one idea to one group of people in 10 different ways.

"Through the grace of all the things online, the web, the television, the radio, the newspaper, all the different modes of communications we have in the diocese help me do that," he said.

Father Biernat, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville, is the honorary chairperson for this year's Catholic Communication Campaign which takes place on the weekend of June 7-8. His job will be to promote the diocesan Office of Communications and encourage people to donate to the CCC, which goes to fund the work of the 20 people who bring the Good News through the Western New York Catholic newspaper, Daybreak TV Productions, radio and Internet.

"We may never know or see the impact that all of this really has," Father Biernat said during a visit to the Communications Office to record a promotional message with Daybreak TV and radio director Gregg Prince.

"Someone who can't sleep at 2 in the morning clicks on Bishop Malone's message for the week. We won't see the impact that has on his life. So the value of Catholic communication far exceeds what we will physically ever see in our own lifetime."

The Office of Communications publishes the monthly Western New York Catholic newspaper and the annual Catholic Directory, produces the Daily Mass, the "Our Daily Bread" cooking show, Bishop Richard J. Malone's "Consider This" video series, and Catholic programing for radio.

 "I sometimes still think in this day and age where we have all of these wonderful modes of communication, if we really take advantage of it and really pay attention. There are people who are going to sit and read the paper, but they're not going to listen to the radio. Or they're going to listen to the radio, but not turn on the TV set. I think all the different pieces of the puzzle come together. Part of the puzzle is the newspaper. To promote all that is going on, invite people who are of faith who come into church enough to pick up the Catholic paper and read it, but to draw them into a deeper experience of faith by saying these are the things that are happening.  This is what's coming up. I see it as an agent of the New Evangelization."

Although the message is put out in many modes, Father Biernat feels people need to actively be open to the message. He often hears people tell him they wished they knew an event was going on after it has passed.

"On one hand I think people have to take a responsibility to say, 'I do need to pay attention to all of the media around me.' But as promoters, are we really using the media to the fullest extent we can? Are we making it clear to people, what is going on in a very busy world?"

As pastor of the largest parish in the diocese, Father Biernat makes sure his parishioners receive the Good News, even if he has to hand them the newspaper himself as they file out of church.

"I've seen in the life of the people that I serve, they really enjoy reading it," he said. "They want to know what's going on in the diocese. And many times it kind of serves as a sign of hope for a number of our older parishioners who can't run around and do what they once did, but they feel connected to it. They see that the Church is strong and the Church is viable. They hear about the things coming up or they see the photographs and articles of what took place."

People remain connected to the larger diocese through reading the paper. They can follow the paths of their former pastors as they move to new parishes, or read about former teachers, or keep tabs on what is happening to the parish or school where they grew up.

"The greatest thing I sense people are interested in when it comes to the newspaper is what is going on in our own Church," Father Biernat said. "I think they appreciate the national stuff, but they really like to know what is going on in the diocese. People like to keep track of their priests. When you run an article that Father So and So just became the pastor or just retired, people like to know that."

Father Biernat can point to Andrew Lauricella, who was interviewed in the Western New York Catholic in April 2003 as part of the St. Joseph Club. Father Biernat began the St. Joseph Club for young men who wanted to learn about the priesthood.

"Another gift of the media is you can make those connections," Father Biernat said. "You remember that name because you saw his name and his picture when he was a high school kid."
 
Father Biernat has heard people talking  about "Our Daily Bread" the Daybreak TV-produced cooking show with Father Paul Seil.  "It shows the human side of the priesthood," he said.
 


St. Greg's uses a webcam to transmit a live feed from its church. Anyone with Internet access can watch live Masses or guest speakers by going to www.stgregs.org. It helps  parishioners and the diocese as a whole remain tuned in to the faith.

"I think a real gift is everything we do online," Father Biernat said. "Anything that goes on in our church 24/7 you can catch through our website. That's great for Mass. A number of our shut ins - people who are temporarily ill or who are long-term - they feel connected to us because they can watch their parish online. They can see daily Mass. They've communicated to me how important that is. They've also communicated to me a couple times when the system has malfunctioned. When they couldn't get it, they said, 'Get it back going again.'"

  During a funeral for a parishioner originally from Manila, few people attended in person, but family and friends could watch oversees.

The webcam has allowed people to view guest speakers from home, which can benefit people dealing with sensitive subjects. A recent annulment seminar had two dozen people watching online.

 "Some people want the information but they're too afraid to come to a meeting like that. They can get the information they need anonymously, which will benefit them in their spiritual life," Father Biernat said.

He hopes to arrange a live teleconference of sorts when noted youth speaker Jason Everett comes to St. Greg's. By allowing high school students to view the presentation from their school auditoriums and being able to ask questions via a phone line, more students would be able to participate.

Father Biernat has discovered that the information superhighway is a two-way street. Before confirmation interviews he looks up each of the candidates on Facebook, then asks them questions based on what he saw. He finds it a great way to learn what is going on in their lives.

"I'm not stalking them or anything, but if you want to give a retreat to teenagers, you have to know what is going on in their lives," he said. "If it's a public setting, it's a public setting. The whole world has a right to see it. And the whole world does see it sometimes."

From those profiles and personal messages the teens post, Father Biernat has learned of the real issues affecting young people, the hurts and burdens each carries. He feels his religious education classes should help deal with those issues.

"How do I, as a priest, learn about what is going on in people's lives? Media. You read enough newspaper articles, you watch enough news on TV, you go through enough Internet pages, you kind of get a good picture of what's going on in people's lives," he said.
 

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