Television & video
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YouTube priest ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles

Los Angeles/Brussels, October 7th, 2015 (SIGNIS/The Washington Post/Catholic Herald Malysia) Recently, Fr Robert Barron, evangelist and presenter of “Word on fire” was ordained an Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles.

Pope Francis opted for someone who had a wide social media presence. This means that Baron is known to a lot of church-going Catholics, since his video series on Catholicism is regularly shown in churches across the U.S. His appointment is both surprising and not surprising, said James Martin, editor at large of America magazine. “It’s surprising because bishops aren’t normally people who are so media savvy,” Martin said. “But given his talent and profile, I thought this was just a matter of time.” Barron’s films, books and YouTube clips have made him a “household name” in some Catholic Church circles, Catholic blogger Rocco Palmo writes.

“I think in the past, church leaders have not fully appreciated the potential of all forms of media, including social media,” Martin said. “Bob has a big presence on YouTube that very few bishops can match.” People who write on U.S. Catholic life, including Patheos’ Elizabeth Scalia, describe Barron as the Catholic Church’s closest leader to another Fulton Sheen, a 20th century evangelist known for his preaching on television and on the radio.

“It’s not a surprise that Rome would notice this and say where can we put this guy to the greatest effect,” Scalia said. “L.A. is natural, it’s a media center, it’s a hand-to-glove fit.” Barron is founder of the media ministry Word on Fire and was the rector of the University of St. Mary and Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. His YouTube videos have been viewed a total of 13 million times, which is notable for the Catholic Church. “There was perhaps a little technophobia, because new media is fast, fast, fast and Rome is slow, slow, slow,” Scalia said. “In terms of a single priest or cleric in media, he’s about as big as it gets.” Barron’s move to Los Angeles will likely position himself even further to mix media and evangelization. Pope Benedict XVI made the “new evangelism” a central theme of his papacy, and Pope Francis has regularly encouraged Catholics to evangelize. “Robert Barron is the exemplar of the new evangelization, next to Pope Francis,” Martin said. “He uses every form of media to spread the good news.”

Religious programming has generally shifted to an array of smaller, specifically religious media outlets, so it’s harder for people to make their name in the faith-based media, said James McCartin, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, a Catholic school. “In this context, Barron has still done pretty well for himself in giving Catholicism a face in the media,” McCartin said. Barron is most popular among traditional Catholics, said McCartin – people who tend to lean more Benedict than Francis. The fact that Francis just elevated Barron to bishop shows “he’s not looking for clones of himself,” he said.


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