Friday, 5 August 2011
The man who masterminded the Blogfest at The Vatican Part One
Richard Rouse is a dynamic English official at the Vatican Pontifical Council for Culture. He many accomplishments to his name but has managed to avoid the limelight – until now.
Just last month Rouse was part of a small team that put together an exhibition featuring 60 contemporary pieces of art to celebrate Benedict XVI’s 60th anniversary of priestly ordination. Rouse presented the Pope with a musical arrangement of the Our Father composed by the Estonian Arvo Pärt. And last autumn he helped to organise the Pontifical Council for Culture’s plenary meeting on the question of languages and communication. The opening ceremony took place on Rome’s Capitoline Hill, symbolising the Church’s desire to be immersed in the world.
But Rouse is best known for organising the groundbreaking Vatican Blogmeet in May, when 150 bloggers from all over the world were invited into the hallowed marble halls of the Vatican. Rouse says emphatically that the Blogmeet was the highlight of his year because of “the buzz and the energy and meeting so many good Catholics who are already engaged in the New Evangelisation”.
Rouse, who is in his 30s, was born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent and gets his Catholicism from his mother, who is from Howth, Co Dublin. He holds a degree in humanities from Aberdeen University and 13 years ago left for Rome to study theology, philosophy and canon law. He says he went to Rome “with the desire to know the faith better and discern what God had planned for me”. He is now married to an Italian and they have three children. He started working for the Vatican in 2003 and his boss is Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the first Vatican cardinal on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
Foremost among Rouse’s duties are sorting through correspondence, handling translations, setting up events, and thinking through the finer details of projects. He has enjoyed time with the Holy Father and describes Benedict XVI as “extremely quick-witted, marvellously intelligent … and one who reads people extremely well”.
The Blogmeet was Rouse’s idea, but it was not the result of one lightbulb moment. Rather, it was a synthesis of several plans and ideas. Cardinal Ravasi asked Rouse to work on a project concerning dialogue with young people and to examine what kind of message they receive about the Church. He was also asked to organise a meeting of journalists at the Vatican so that the Holy See could keep up to date with the modern trends in journalism. Rouse looked into journalists writing on Vatican issues and found that most of them had blogs. This led Rouse to look deeper into the blogosphere. He started to think about some sort of meeting between the Vatican and bloggers, whom he describes as being “to some extent the human face of the internet”.
His first thoughts were that it could be a meeting to reach out to atheist bloggers and bloggers who have no connection with the Church, to come to terms with their language, needs and expectations. He thought that confining it to the Catholic blogosphere would be too introspective. Bloggers of all identities are spreading their messages and coping with being misunderstood and the challenges of communicating with a wider audience. The Church faces similar problems: it has its mission, its established ways of transmitting the Gospel, but needs to update its language if it wants to be effective in evangelising what Benedict XVI has called the “digital continent”. It also needs to draw on the resources of Catholic bloggers around the world. Rouse urges bloggers to ask themselves the following questions: “Are we aware of how people are interpreting us? Are we aware how the information we put out is being interpreted? Are we being very clear and charitable in our communications and leaving less room for misinterpretations?”
This is from an article I wrote for The Catholic Herald for its August 5th Print Edition.