Catholics are urged to go on technology fast for Lent

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PROVIDENCE — A call by several Catholic bishops in Italy for their congregants to go on a high-tech fast for Lent, switching off modern appliances from cars to iPods and abstaining from surfing the Web or text messaging until Easter, has some local Catholics struggling with the prospect of “tech-less Fridays.”

Archbishop Benito Cocchi of Modena-Nonantola has asked people "to fast" from sending text messages on their cellular phones, at least on the Fridays of Lent.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the Turin diocese has called on its followers to abstain from watching television during Lent, while other dioceses have also followed suit, asking Catholics to leave their cars at home, turn off their computers, and put away their iPods.

Father Michael Najim, director of vocations for the Diocese of Providence, lauded the call as an opportunity “take a step back.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “There’s so much distraction in the world. Technology has simultaneously made life more efficient and more complicated. I think one of the things the Church is saying is let’s get away from the technology and let’s get back to being personal.”

But while some in the Church feel that reducing our reliance on technology will strengthen our faith, others are using technology for just that reason.

Father Jay Finelli, pastor at Holy Ghost Church in Tiverton, respectfully took the opposite stance.

“I think technology is a great thing,” he said.

Father Finelli is no stranger to technology. He has his own Web site; a Facebook account with more than 1,000 friends; he podcasts; and is an unabashed Mac aficionado.

He sees his use of technology as a new form of evangelization. “We have to be like Jesus and his followers, who went out and talked directly to the people,” he said.

“This is the means. This is the way to reach these kids. Through my podcasts I reach 1,500 to 2,000 people each week. That’s more than my parish. Through this, I’ve seen people return to the Church. I’ve seen people who are not Catholic come in to the Church.”

Father Finelli’s approach would seem to be in line with recent efforts by the Church to reach out to the tech-savvy and do not differ much from even those who support the technology fast.

“I’m just as guilty as anyone,” admitted Father Najim. Equipped with an iPhone, laptop, and a Facebook page of his own, as the Vocations Director for the diocese and chaplain at Rhode Island College, he sees the value of being technologically accessible.

So too does Pope Benedict XVI. In January, the Vatican launched its own YouTube channel, with the welcoming viewers to a "great family that knows no borders."

“I think there’s a lot of good things happening with technology,” Father Najim said. “But at the same time, we have to know when to shut those things off.”

“I could go without texting, but I don’t think I could the Internet for five weeks,” said Michelle Palazzo, a communicant of St. Mary’s Church in Newport.

“I don’t really text all that much,” said Stephen Bowen, a student at CCRI and a parishioner at St. Lucy’s Church in Middletown. “But I don’t think I could do it if you asked me to give up video games.”

Katherine Mastellone, a thirty-something mother of two, is a Blackberry owner and often uses the device to check e-mail, snap photos of her kids and send them to far-off family members. A communicant of St. Mark Church in Jamestown, she finds technology can bring families together.

“I don’t necessarily think technology is a bad thing. Being able to send photos or e-mail friends and family is important. It keeps my family – who are spread out and don’t see each other all that frequently – updated on the kids and keeps us in touch,” she said. “I do think that using technology in the presence of your family is a problem, and you should really be communicating verbally instead of texting. I know people who only text. In that respect, technology can be overwhelming.”

As Father Najim surmised, “Technology is a good servant, but it’s a bad master.”