With new website, Franciscans opt for their own 'hip-hop' style

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) — The head of the Franciscans hopes the order’s
new website will have a certain “hip-hop” style — being very modern
or “hip” and inspiring people to move, act or “hop.”

Franciscan Father Michael Perry, minister general of the
order, said the March launch of the revamped website — www.ofm.org — is just
phase one of a comprehensive project that will include opportunities for the
public to interact with the friars and for the friars to reflect formally on
how, when and why they communicate.

The Franciscans decided their website needed a radical
redesign because “we discovered we were communicating only to ourselves
and not to the world,” Father Perry told Catholic News Service.

“Reading the signs of the times” means not simply
acknowledging a problem, but doing something about it, he said. So the friars
engaged Longbeard Creative, a Canada-based digital design company, to help them
move the website into the modern age and respond to the Franciscans’ obligation
to share the Gospel.

“We see this as a continuity with what St. Francis and
the early brothers did,” he said. “Whenever they came across a need,
when they saw a boundary, they decided they had to cross it, they had to
respond,” otherwise they would be “limiting the possibility of God’s
grace in their lives and the offer of God’s love for the world.”

A sleek, mobile-friendly website is not out of place for a
group of mendicant friars. St. Francis and his brothers always looked for
“new tools to communicate a message in a new way,” the minister
general said. “He wasn’t simply repackaging old material, he was picking
up things as he went along” and sharing the Gospel in ways the people he
met would understand.

“I think he felt also that he needed to learn new
things,” which is what the friars need to do as well. “We need to ask
ourselves: ‘What is it that the world is telling us? What is this new
technology offering us? What prospects and challenges does it bring? Is it
really offering humanity a greater step toward a deeper experience of itself as
human? Is it bringing people together, is it crossing divides, or is it
creating new spaces where people feel even more isolated?'”

As time goes on, Father Perry said, the Franciscans will
expand the website in response to users’ needs and interests, but also in the
areas the friars believe they have something particular to offer to the world.
Obviously, that will include “environmental ethics” and offering
small “formation packages” on safeguarding creation, spirituality and

Many people visit www.ofm.org looking for information about
St. Francis — a search term with increased popularity since the election of
Pope Francis, “this person who’s a Jesuit who’s now converted to become a
Franciscan,” Father Perry said with a smile. Traffic increased again when Pope
Francis titled his encyclical on the environment “Laudato Si’,” quoting
St. Francis of Assisi’s canticle of praise and thanksgiving for the gifts of

The second thing visitors want is help with their spiritual
lives, he said, “something that can help them try to … ‘mind the
gap'” between the challenges of their daily lives and their faith in God.

The Franciscans want the new site to be attractive,
substantive, thought-provoking and help people feel connected. But perhaps not
always, Father Perry said.

Legend holds that St. Francis of Assisi spoke with the
birds, but his successor as head of the order does not even Tweet. “People
do not always have to be ‘on,'” he said. “We need perhaps to propose
ways people can do a moratorium” on constant media use, so that they can
pray and contemplate.

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