For News Agency, Internet Is a Godsend

Fides Goes Where Missionaries Can´t

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ROME, APR. 2, 2001 ( The American stock market may be souring of late on Internet companies. But in Rome, few are as excited about the Internet´s potential than Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of the Fides news agency.

The Fides news agency, founded in 1927 by the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, reports on and distributes information about Catholic missionary work for the Vatican.

Father Cervellera jumped into the information arena almost immediately after being ordained as a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in 1978, reported the Wall Street Journal in a recent column. He worked as editor in chief of Mondo e Missione, a monthly magazine. Then, in 1989, the Italian-born priest left for Asia to work as a missionary in China and Hong Kong.

While in Hong Kong, he developed his interest in the Internet as a tool to let people know about the Hong Kong mission´s activities, the Journal said. This led John Paul II to name him director of Fides in 1997.

In his new post, Father Cervellera was able to push for a Web site that would connect the faithful worldwide, especially those suffering religious persecution. It was launched in March 1998 in English, Italian, French, German and Spanish.

Soon after, the Pope invited two Chinese bishops to the Vatican for an Asian synod. But the Chinese government would not let them go. «If Mohammed couldn´t come to the mountain, the mountain would go to Mohammed,» Father Cervellera says, and Fides did the heavy lifting, e-mailing and faxing to the bishops summaries from the synod.

Fides began receiving messages from the bishops and other Catholics in China asking for all the news, not just summaries. And thus was born the Chinese Web site written by Fides staff members. «A very simple structure, and a very simple idea, but with very important facts» is how he describes the text-intensive site, whose main page at ( is updated once a week but also includes daily bulletins of «breaking news.»

Fides cannot tell how many people it is actually reaching, since many can crowd around one computer at a time or read printouts of the site´s news dispatches. But Fides has registered more than 10,000 «hits» to the Chinese site each week.

It is these individual Church members whom Father Cervellera wants to help. He tells of a letter Fides received from a young Chinese girl. She wrote that after learning, through the site, how Catholics in places like Sudan and Vietnam were struggling, she didn´t feel so alone and could now view her own difficulties as a mission rather than a misfortune.

Clearly moved by her letter, Father Cervellera passed it along to the Pope to show him the impact this site was having. An Arabic site was launched last year, and a Portuguese site is in the planning stages.

While the Web will never replace face-to-face missionary work, Father Cervellera said, it connects and unifies Catholics worldwide who may live in isolation and fear.

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