Connected to God and to others: the new digital approach by Our Lady of Lourdes in Toronto

May 2, 2019 — Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, in Toronto, recently launched its new website. “Welcome,” states the home page, “we’re glad you found us.” Fr. John Sullivan SJ, Pastor, and Bill Hatch, Outreach Coordinator, agreed to explain to us the reason for this digital approach and, on a broader level, the philosophy of their parish.

To really understand the strategy of Our Lady of Lourdes, it is useful to go back to its origins. “Our goal is to truly love God because God loved us first and we consider the basis of our mission as aligned with that of the Catholic Church: to continue the work of Jesus Christ,” said both interviewees. The parish focuses on proclaiming the Gospels to all those seeking God in a conscious manner or not, especially by being welcoming to all.

A parish known for its openness

This openness towards others emerges from the community, the neighbourhood and the history of this Jesuit-led church.

Amongst other things, it is located near the St. James Town community. The population of this neighbourhood is growing by leaps and bounds due to immigration, especially from the Philippines. These newcomers are seeking “a home away from home” and many have found it at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Immigrants are not the only ones to feel welcomed in the parish. “One of the reasons we hold out our hand to others is to embrace Saint Ignatius’ principle of the magis or of “more.” We try to get to know Christ on a more intimate level, to love him more and to follow him more closely,” said Mr. Hatch and Father Sullivan. So, even though the parish is already flourishing and vibrant, it wishes to further reach out to others: adults, youth and children, the LGBT community, the Afro-Caribean community, single people and couples, just to name a few of the parish groups.

Even more so, Our Lady of Lourdes invites those who do not know about Catholicism or who know very little about it to take an interest and to experience community life. “Four years ago, we started to run Alpha, which is essentially an introduction to the foundations of Christianity. It also allows people to experience a tightly knit Christian community that gets together for meals and spiritual conversations,” said Mr. Hatch.

“Since our humble beginnings, we have seen hundreds of people receive their program diploma and, more important, we have seen them grow on a personal level and deepen their desire to follow God more closely.” The church wishes to reach out to others, regardless of who or where they are at in their spiritual journey.

Finally, parishioners can volunteer in various initiatives that meet the needs of the community, such as a food bank or a human resources and material aid program. They thus bear witness to the parish’s philosophy.

An Internet site rooted in the values of the parish

Why the need for a new online identity when the parish is flourishing? According to Statistics Canada, approximately 90% of Canadians have access to Internet, 52% use it to make the best decisions and 77% leverage it to communicate with others. Having a digital presence today is essential. And Our Lady of Lourdes brilliantly combines technology with its deep values.

In fact, the church’s welcoming approach is well reflected in its website, which showcases its fabulous parishioners, lay people and religious, persons of all genders and ages.

The pictures and, in general, the design of the site thus reflect the same diversity and focus on the human person that the parish puts forward in its daily interactions. The Church is all of us and the digital identity of Our Lady of Lourdes reflects this.

In addition to the visual elements, the message of Our Lady of Lourdes’ website encourages knowledge and education, spiritual contemplation but also action. With inclusive language centred on the needs of the individual, the visitor is well guided in his or her digital pursuit. One quickly knows how to get involved in various activities, from social work to the sacraments. The use of buttons and forms that call to action exemplifies this. The audience is always only a click away from being able to contact the parish to become a member, or simply to obtain information about Catholicism. Once again, web visitors are met where they are at on their spiritual journey.

In short, both in real life as in the digital world, Our Lady of Lourdes Toronto is centred on the human person in all of his or her diversity. To be inspired by the work of this parish, you can visit their new site or its social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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