by Moira Cullings
LOS ANGELES — Bishop Robert Barron first dabbled in media at the turn of the century after he’d raised enough money for a Sunday morning radio program on WGN radio in Chicago.
Shortly afterward, he worked with a team to develop a website, although he hardly knew what that meant at the time.
His role in digital media only took off from there.
“In 2007, I did my first YouTube video,” said Bishop Barron, “and now, we have produced 1,000 videos for YouTube, which have been viewed nearly 90,000,000 times.”
Following that, Bishop Barron jumped into the world of social media.
Now, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries boasts more than three million Facebook followers, 180,000 Twitter followers and 338,000 Instagram followers.
Some 455,000 people subscribe to his YouTube channel.
Many of his audience are young adults.
“Most people today, especially young people, live on the internet and on social media,” said Bishop Barron. “The great missionaries and evangelists in the history of the church went where people were.”
“That’s the same challenge and opportunity today,” he added. “We can no longer expect people to come to our institutions; we have to move into their space.”
Catholic messaging in a secular world
Bishop Barron has successfully maneuvered his way through the chaos of the digital realm — even Twitter, his least favorite platform, which he said “seems to bring out the worst in people.”
He’s also evangelizing through Word on Fire, which offers a variety of resources, including articles, books, DVDs, homilies, study kits and videos.
Through these outlets, Bishop Barron promotes the Catholic faith to a previously inaccessible group of people — non-Catholics or those who have fallen away from the faith.
His followers can learn more about the church simply by perusing their social media feed.
“There are far, far more Catholic materials, books, videos, etc., available now than there were when I was a young man — and that is all to the good,” said Bishop Barron.
Last year, during the height of COVID-19, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann witnessed firsthand the impact a bishop can have online when he celebrated daily Mass on a Facebook video streamed live from his home chapel.
“I was able to reach a much wider audience with Facebook Live from my chapel than I could engage at any particular church,” he said.
“The sacraments cannot be truly experienced virtually,” he added. “However, during the height of the pandemic, the virtual daily Masses brought great comfort and inspiration to millions of Americans.”
Archbishop Naumann is inspired by Bishop Barron’s efforts to engage with a massive number of people on a daily basis.
“Word on Fire is a ministry that is not waiting for young adults to come to the church or rectory door, but seeks young adults where they are at home — the digital universe,” he said.
Emily Lopez, lead consultant for the archdiocesan office of evangelization, believes the appeal of Bishop Barron’s messaging is how succinctly he speaks the truth of the Catholic faith.
“Currently, our world is divided and fractured in so many ways along so many lines of personal truths,” she said. “[Bishop] Barron has a gift of knowledge and shares this gift through teaching.”
Lopez said that 2021 presents a unique challenge to evangelization.
“The world we live in offers a countless buffet of distractions from the development of genuine wonder, curiosity and imagination,” she said. “Ongoing messaging encourages us toward deeper disconnection from God and each other.”
Lopez said the isolation people have experienced over the past couple of years should prompt an even greater desire for an unwavering faith community among Catholics.
“We find ourselves in a very sensitive moment to reach out in support of one another and encourage, through this hopelessness, with the joy of the Gospel,” she said.
When it comes to Bishop Barron’s own evangelization efforts, he isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
He continues to post regularly on each of his social media platforms, and Word on Fire is continuously creating new resources.
“There are so many today who simply write off religion as old superstition,” said Bishop Barron, “or ‘Bronze Age mythology.’
“I hope that our smart, accessible and beautiful materials will cause them to pause and at least give the faith a more serious consideration.”
To check out his YouTube videos or to subscribe to his channel, visit: youtube.com/user/wordonfirevideo.
Explore all that Word on Fire has to offer by visiting the website at: wordonfire.org.
Follow Archbishop Naumann on Facebook: facebook.com/archbishopnaumann.
Popular reads from Word on Fire
Word on Fire recently launched “A Journey with Jonah: The Spirituality of Bewilderment,” a compact, 84-page book by Father Paul Murray, OP. Father Murray guides readers through the Old Testament story of Jonah and breaks down the lessons contained in the short text.
Within “To Light a Fire on the Earth,” Bishop Robert Barron’s simple explanations of profound topics come to life through his conversations with John L. Allen Jr., editor of Crux. The pair delve into the goodness of the Catholic faith and why it’s relevant even in overwhelmingly secular times.
Bishop Barron’s “Light from Light” explores the richness of the Catholic faith through a reflection on the Nicene Creed. Bishop Barron compels readers, particularly skeptics, to rethink Catholicism in a world where more and more Americans are becoming religiously unaffiliated.
Word on Fire offers dozens of books that cover a plethora of topics. Visit: bookstore.wordonfire.org for more.