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Monk's Vision Of A Holier Web Gaining Support
Bringing The Word Online

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IN THIS SERIES

Masters of the Web: Private Art
Masters of the Web: Dr. Mary Furlong
Masters of the Web: HTML Guru
Masters of the Web: gURL
Masters of the Web: AntiOnline
Masters of the Web: U.S.S. Independence


Masters of the Web





“Because the Web is so personalized, because you can reach the whole person through it, there's a real power of intimacy in it.”
— Br. Mary Aquinas Woodworth




audio
Brother Aquinas on Christ in the Desert and nextScribe.
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Web Links
nextScribe The Monastery of Christ in the Desert







“The Holy Spirit will certainly guide the Church in the long run, but it would be wonderful if we could get a jump on this technology now.”
— Abbot Philip, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert




audio
Brother Aquinas on getting the Church online.
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On seeking vocations
An example of Web artistry from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. A monk there is now hoping to spread Christianity through the Web. (Monastery of Christ in the Desert)

“Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.”—Mark 16:15

By Michael J. Martinez

ABCNEWS.com
S

ince Jesus gave his disciples that instruction two millennia ago, the Roman Catholic Church has been doing just that, all over the world.
    
Catholic monks created the first modern books, set up the first schools and helped spread literacy, all so people could read the Bible.
     But lately, the Church has lost its vanguard position, and at least one Benedictine monk has turned to the modern equivalent of illuminated scripture to spread the word: the World Wide Web.
     Brother Mary Aquinas Woodworth has given up his cloistered life at the Christ in the Desert Monastery in rural New Mexico to head up a new nonprofit corporation, nextScribe, dedicated to creating a place on the Web that promotes spirituality, understanding and peace.

The Power of Intimate Communication
“Because the Web is so personalized, because you can reach the whole person through it, there’s a real power of intimacy in it,” says Brother Aquinas. “From a commercial standpoint, you can use that intimacy to really very powerfully affect what the person is going to buy. That’s fine, but if that’s all that this power is used for, it’s going to be a terrible thing for people, on a human level.”
    
Brother
Brother Mary Aquinas Woodworth (nextScribe)
Four years ago, Brother Aquinas created the scriptorium@christdesert, a Web design studio at Christ in the Desert founded to put new monks to work for the benefit of the monastery. The studio quickly became famous for not only for its HTML programming, but for the beautiful original artwork the monks worked into their pages, reminiscent of centuries-old illuminated text.
     “In the Middle Ages, you sat in front of a book with a quill pen and illustrated,” says Abbot Philip, who runs the monastery. “Today, the tools are different, but the spirituality of the work is still there.”
     The popularity of the monastery’s pages led Brother Aquinas to the Vatican, where he helped develop a site for the Holy See and the Pope. It also made him think about other ways the church could reach out through the Internet.
     “The Vatican is not built for doing the media,” Brother Aquinas says. “That’s just not its purpose in life.”

A New Vocation Online
So about a year ago, Brother Aquinas left his cloistered life, moved from the monastery to Santa Fe and set up nextScribe. He’s now trying to raise money and recruit talented programmers, artists and writers to begin work on a Catholic “portal” site—a one-stop, subscriber-only Internet site featuring news, music, video, games and other interactive hooks for all ages, all with a Catholic message.
     The fund-raising is a monumental task in and of itself: Woodworth says he’ll probably need an investment of $5 million to start designing a site and eventually get it online. But he doesn’t think that’s unrealistic.
     “There are 70 million Catholics in the United States. Even assuming that only 10 percent of them are on the Internet, and that’s conservative, you still have 7 million potential customers for this site,” Brother Aquinas says. “That puts us No. 2 behind America Online.”
     Brother Aquinas is actively recruiting HTML programmers, but the job may not appeal to most Silicon Valley refugees. He expects his workers to live by Catholic moral principles, pray at work, and make the job their calling.

A Long, Hard Road Ahead
Brother Aquinas has attracted some attention within the church.
     “Aquinas tends to be the one voice in the wilderness,” says Francis X. Maier, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver. “It’s hard to do what he wants to do on his own. He loves the institutional Church, but he has a deep understanding of its limitations. His work is really visionary.”
     Maier and his boss, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, understand the digital medium better than most. The Archdiocese last month sponsored Newtech ’98, a conference that attracted 50 bishops from around the world. In three days, church leaders met with such digital-age luminaries as Neil Postman and Esther Dyson, and discussed ways the church should approach new technologies such as the Internet.
     “In a sense, the Web isn’t a very important issue at all when you look at poverty and violence,” Maier says. “But in another sense, it’s very important because it represents the new language that we can use to talk about all these other issues.”

The Church’s Digital Age
Most Catholic leaders in the field agree it’s still a long way to go before the Web can be remade in God’s image.
     “In terms of the hierarchy—the bishops, archbishops, cardinals—there’s still a lot of work. They now realize they need to understand the technology and where it’s going,” Brother Aquinas says. “But the conference was a milestone, and really set things going in the right direction.”
     Brother Aquinas admits it’s still a long road, but his support is growing, both within and outside of the church.
     “I believe absolutely in what he’s doing,” Abbot Philip says. “The Holy Spirit will certainly guide the church in the long run, but it would be wonderful if we could get a jump on this technology now. That’s his vision.”
     “I hope Brother Aquinas gets his funding,” Maier says, “because I know it will bear fruit for the Church.”
     After all, didn’t John the Baptist start out as a voice in the wilderness?

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