Church has presence at convergence of interactive, film, music industries

IMAGE: CNS photo/Matt Palmer

By Matt Palmer

Texas (CNS) — The juxtaposition was striking.

the early evening of March 11, 59-year-old Bishop Paul Tighe worked his way
through the hallways of the Austin Convention Center, weaving his way through
thousands of young people who were in town attending the South by Southwest
Festival, more commonly known as SXSW.

year’s festival began March 10 and will conclude March 19.

one level, it’s kind of strange because you’re wandering around the place,” said
Bishop Tighe, who is currently adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for
Culture. “You’re certainly the only one in a collar and you’re possibly the
only one with white hair.”

Bishop Tighe walked the convention floor, many of the attendees had recently
emerged from panels hosted by tech giants, comedians, actors, politicians and

they passed by Bishop Tighe, no one seemed to realize they had just encountered
one of the Vatican’s most influential communicators during the last decade.

Tighe was at the festival to be part of a panel called “Compassionate Disruption,”
which was hosted March 12 at the Hyatt Regency. Bishop Tighe was joined on the
panel by Helen Osman, former chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops and Michael Hertl and Christoph Krachten, who are digital
media innovators for the Catholic Church in Germany.

a festival known for its music concerts, movie premieres and tech company
displays, the Catholic Church certainly stuck out.

might be surprised there’s a church presence, but there’s so many places where
the church is not invited any longer that it’s important to respond positively
to invitation,” Bishop Tighe told Catholic News Service. “Even if it looks a
bit different or not like our usual gatherings.”

Tighe is no stranger to speaking at unconventional festivals. He once spoke in
front of 12,000 people at the Burning Man arts festival in Europe.

added: “Despite all the sophistication, coolness, sarcasm and the irony at an
event like this, I think if you speak with authenticity, there’s still a
possibility of touching people’s hearts.”

faith session at SXSW is still a relatively new concept, said the interactive festival’s
director, Hugh Forrest. Forrest said he likes panels that take attendees out of
their comfort zones.

think it is an outlier, but I think the outliers here are what makes ‘the thing’
so interesting,” Forrest told CNS. “A faith-based session at a technology event
that’s focused on start-ups? That’s really neat. I love that we have the
capacity to host sessions like that which attract people with strong faiths. I hope
it attracts people maybe who don’t, but are interested in this stuff.”

said he sees the Bishop Tighe appearance as the start of a potentially longer
relationship with the Catholic Church. He dreams that one day Pope Francis
might Skype with an audience at SXSW.

pope and the current Vatican is embracing technology,” Forrest said. “It makes
sense to connect with this crowd. They are in a sense embracing disruption very
significantly. I think the pope has a leadership role few other people have. We
like to showcase innovative, creative leaders.”

first start was Bishop Tighe, who was born in Navan, County Meath, in Ireland,
and is a former director of public affairs for the Archdiocese of Dublin. He is
largely known for his eight years as secretary of the Pontifical Council for
Social Communications. The Catholic Church’s presence in digital media
increased heavily during that time.

2012, Pope Benedict XVI launched a massively popular Twitter account, which was
later transferred to Pope Francis. A pope app for mobile devices also debuted
in recent years. Then-Msgr. Tighe was named adjunct secretary of the Pontifical
Council for Culture in late 2015 and consecrated a bishop Feb. 27, 2016.

his official move out of Vatican communications, Bishop Tighe maintains a deep
interest in the topic.

day before the “Compassionate Disruption” panel, Forrest acknowledged it was a
gamble and that he didn’t know what kind of crowd would show. The bet appears
to have paid off for the festival. During one point at the festival, #GODatSXSW
was Twitter’s No. 1 trend in Austin. On a day that featured former Vice
President Joe Biden, billionaire and tech leader Mark Cuban, and other celebrities,
being such a topic of discussion was no small feat.

from attendees of the panel ranged from whether the Catholic Church should
position itself as a brand and how the church can use digital media for good.

several decades, SXSW has been a constantly evolving festival. Now, it could be
known as a place for fertile faith discussions.

an event that brings together very, very creative people and helps those
creative people make connections and discover new things,” Forrest said.

sizable crowd attended the session inside a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency. The
session was the result of years of discussions between Osman and Forrest. Osman,
who lives in Austin and served the U.S. bishops from 2005 to 2015, led the
panel discussion.

the conversation will continue,” Osman told attendees at the end of the panel.
“South by Southwest has been very encouraging of us to talk about coming back
in 2018.”

Tighe said young people are at the heart of the festival, which boasts thousands of ambitious
techies attempting to launch start-up Web platforms. For some, it is the
opportunity to get the attention of investors. It’s a high-pressure situation
for many.

compassionate disruption is to say,” Bishop Tighe added, “fundamentally, you’re
a person of value, a person of dignity and worth. God loves you and cares for
you whether you pitch well or not.”

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