By Barb Arland-Fye
Father Apo Mpanda, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, invited me to talk with his parishioners at all five Masses this past weekend to encourage subscriptions to The Catholic Messenger. I welcomed the opportunity to share my passion for our weekly diocesan newspaper and to highlight some of the content that makes for worthwhile reading.
His invitation came in response to presentations I made last fall and early this winter to pastors throughout the Davenport Diocese concerning ideas for building up subscriptions to The Catholic Messenger. We are concluding our official subscription drive, but we welcome new subscriptions year-round.
In this era of rapidly changing technology, many newspapers — secular as well as Catholic — have been striving to retain loyal readers and subscribers while attracting a younger generation of readers who are growing up with the Internet, Facebook, text messaging and Twitter.
Intriguingly, a 2011 study found that young Catholic adults, those born in 1982 or later, would be more likely to read a “print product” than check it out online. “If you don’t put a print product in the hands of a younger Catholic adult, you have no way of reaching them, because you can’t force them to come to your browser,” said Tim Walter, executive director of the Catholic Press Association in an Oct. 18 Catholic News Service article by Mark Pattison.
“Younger folks are really not looking to the Web for religious content,” Karen Franz, editor/general manager of the Catholic Courier diocesan newspaper of Rochester, N.Y., said in the same article.
Readership of Catholic newspapers, overall, has held steady for the past six years, the study found, and there is solid evidence that Catholic newspaper readers remain loyal to the print format.
In my meetings with the pastors, I found consistent support for The Catholic Messenger, even as we were talking about the subscription billing process.
“We’re all very supportive of The Catholic Messenger and we want to keep it alive,” a pastor said at a meeting in the Ottumwa Deanery. “It is an excellent paper,” he and several other pastors added.
At another meeting, in the Grinnell Deanery, a pastor asked whether parishes are making use of The Catholic Messenger in Bible studies, RCIA or other faith-sharing groups. Some parishes are doing that, participants at the meeting were told. The priest suggested that The Catholic Messenger consider highlighting/promoting a feature or issue of the week for faith-sharing and discussion in parish groups.
RCIA groups could benefit from reading and discussing articles in The Catholic Messenger as a contemporary component of faith formation, added Bishop Martin Amos, who was in attendance at that meeting of the Grinnell Deanery. Another suggestion from a priest: provide a leading question for faith sharing in each week’s issue.
In my message to St. Anthony parishioners, I encouraged them to open up our diocesan newspaper and take a look at the stories, photos and columns that celebrate and promote life and our Catholic faith. Each week we provide coverage of diocesan, state, national and international news about the Catholic Church. While The Catholic Messenger reflects the life of the Church throughout the world, its emphasis is on diocesan news, parishes, parishioners and their opinions.
This newspaper and my predecessors have been committed to the people of the diocese for 130 years, and as good stewards today, we’re striving to adapt to the communication needs of a wide variety of readers.
Fr. Mpanda recognizes the value of The Catholic Messenger, and extended a gracious welcome to me, setting the tone for my presentation to the parishioners.