If you've visited Daybreak TV's YouTube channel, you may have seen Father James Vacco, OFM, deliver a reflection on the day's Gospel reading or cooking up Thanksgiving dinner on an episode of "Our Daily Bread." Perhaps you've read about his thoughts on Easter in the Western New York Catholic newspaper. Soon, you will hear him speak about the Office of Communications. The pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Allegany has been named the honorary chairperson for this year's Catholic Communication Campaign, an annual collection to support national and local communication needs in the Church.
As a pastor and teacher at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, Father Vacco knows the value of good communication, whether it's delivering Jesus' message of love and peace in a homily, or instructing students how to deliver that message.
"I think for the diocese, we need to use the various means - the newspaper, podcasts, television, whatever it might be, for the new evangelization and also to help parishes with religious education. Parishes struggle with having enough time, as well as having personnel - teachers, who are usually volunteers - that are really able to do the classroom stuff."
In April, when he came into the diocesan Communications Office to meet the staff, he mentioned that anyone can create a decent webpage or post a message of any kind to Facebook, but it is important that followers have a trusted source where they can find reliable material from a competent source, rather than a source that's pushing an agenda.
"I think we need to promote a way of saying, 'Here is authentic material that is palatable to the common person.' You can't give them the theology of (Bernard) Lonergan, and you can't give them authoritarian dogma, but you need to give them reasonable teachings that are in tune with their experience and what's going on in the world," he said.
Father Vacco admits he uses only the basics of social media himself, specifically Facebook and Skype. "I have a Twitter account. I think I set it up, but I couldn't tell you how to use it," he said. However, he has seen the value of the different forms of electronic communication.
A short while ago, he celebrated a funeral for a much-loved teacher in Allegany. Expecting mobs at the funeral, Father Vacco considered how he could accommodate everyone. He decided to transmit the service onto a large monitor in the school via Skype, so the overflow crowd could be a part of the service.
"I think of St. Gregory's, you can watch any of their services online from their website," he said. "It is almost now the expectation that a place is going to have at least a website that you can tap into to get some basic information or more information, like tapping into a service."
His work with Daybreak, recording USCCB Reflections and the televised Sunday Mass, began a few years ago. He also did a vocations special representing the Franciscan order.
"How it got started in the first place, I don't remember," he said, adding that the Daybreak crew keeps asking him back. "I enjoy doing (the tapings), it makes me nervous. It's very different from teaching or preaching because you're in charge of the time, even if you're conscious that the students need to be out of the room in 15 minutes. People expect to be out of Mass in an hour. You still have more flexibility in controlling the time. What makes me nervous is whenever you do these types of tapings, you're very conscious of time. That builds my anxiety."
He gets compliments from people who have seen his reflections on YouTube.
"Just recently, Father Xavier (Seubert, OFM), who's teaching public speaking out at the seminary used a couple of the clippings where I was the presenter as examples to his class," he said.
His spots have garnered well over 300 views.
"No one has ever said, 'Oh boy, where did you get that idea?' So, they must be somewhat effective or at least palatable," he said.
He also has his ideas of how Daybreak could bring in more viewers and possibly increase attendance in parishes. He would like to see Masses shot live in churches with full congregations, rather than a prerecorded Mass shot in St. Joseph Cathedral's small Our Lady Chapel. "Then you're going to have a more attractive Mass presentation, not just for the shut in, but for the person who is mobile, the person surfing for the television. It's a lively liturgical celebration. 'I might want to go to that parish because that really looks good,'" he said.
As a Franciscan priest, he has three messages that he wants to communicate in all his work.
"I would say that there are probably three things I want to get out - that God is real, that God loves us, and that in the midst of our experience we can discover a glimpse of God's presence," he said. "When you look at the life of (St.) Francis (of Assisi), that was basically his foundation. When you look at his canticle creation, praising God for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, nice weather, but also all the weather's moods - cloudy and serene. Praising God for Sister Death. Something we try to ignore, avoid, believe it doesn't exist, and yet it is our sister. Even people when they are in conflict. Here's someone in conflict, the next step in Francis' vision is resolution, peacemaking."
He calls it a realistic optimism.
"We can make a change in things if we want to. Sometimes what makes us want to is the grace of God stirring us to take that which is bitter and just turn it into something sweet."
Father Vacco is surprised at how much digital communications have changed the lifestyle of the average citizen.
"The new media and its availability, what blows my mind is, I have a computer at my desk and I have a laptop. I was given for Christmas, a couple years ago, a Kindle. I'm thinking the Kindle is just for the books I can download. I didn't realize that Kindle had a browser. Now you can Google and do whatever you want. I keep the Kindle by my bed. In the morning, I'll check to see, before I even get up, what's the news. This is my pattern now," he said. "When you look at anybody today, it's no longer go to the library and look something up. I can Google and find an answer. It's part of the way of living now. When you think about it, 10 years ago, the phrase 'Google it' probably didn't exist. Ten years later it is part of our lexicon."
Catholic Communication Campaign will be held the weekend of June 9-10 in all area parishes. Donors may also pay online below or send a check directly to the Communications office; checks should be made payable to the Diocese of Buffalo, 795 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203. Please remember to indicate the Catholic Communication Campaign in the memo portion of the check.