DUTCH priest Fr Michel Remery is Tweeting the way to Jerusalem.
Fr Remery, known for his book and app Tweeting with God, was at St Paul’s Book Centre in Brisbane last week launching his new book Online with the Saints and en route to the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth.
“I think it is important to overcome the image of what we often have as a Church that social media is dangerous; it’s too short to be relevant; it’s superficial; it’s un-Christian, even, sometimes,” he said.
“Let’s try to be open to what’s there, realistic as well, and we have to learn how to deal with it.
“There are dangers everywhere.
“There are dangers when you’re conceived.
“Dangers are there but I think we need to open up and recognise the possibilities rather than the dangers.”
Social media was just a tool or a means of meeting each other, he said.
There was good or bad to be found everywhere.
“I think by simply living our faith with conviction, I think we can do a lot of evangelisation not just in the streets, not just in the park, but online,” Fr Remery said.
“So in that sense, it’s an important way of being present as a Church to be where people are, to unite Jesus, go on the road in the wrong direction and simply accompany them – even if they go the wrong way, even if they sin – but don’t join them in sin.”
Fr Remery said he wanted to meet people on the Road to Emmaus.
It was what Jesus did.
“He goes in the wrong direction together with those young people, who are searching, who are a little bit disappointed – very disappointed in fact – about the hope they had,” Fr Remery said.
“He helps them see what they’re really searching for and in the end they recognise Him simply because that’s the One they’re looking for and as soon as they have recognised Him, they go back.
“They realised: wrong path.”
While young Brisbanites were not on the actual road to Emmaus today, they could be found on digital roads to Emmaus.
These digital roads had space for Jesus to walk.
Providing space for that encounter was why Fr Remery launched his book Online with the Saints, which integrated a physical book with a mobile application and videos.
His book responded to questions asked by young people and answered them from the perspective of a saint.
It was written simply and directly.
Words tailored to an informed Catholic audience were omitted or introduced slowly so as to keep the text accessible.
“‘Encyclical’ is a beautiful word, but it’s simply a letter form the pope,” he said.
“I’d rather have them get to know the saints and how they are close to God than learn specific Catholic vocabulary.”
Using the application Tweeting with God in tandem with the book meant a user could scan a page of the book featuring one of the saints, and be whisked away to a social media profile of that saint.
The saint’s profile had different messages and posts from the saint, according to their works and life.
Using the app, you could even take a selfie with a saint.
These were all ways to point back to Jerusalem.
The problems faced in The Netherlands, where Fr Remery was from, and where he now ministers in Luxembourg, were similar to those found in Australia and across the western world.
Sometimes we locked ourselves up in our community, he said.
He said there was a large group of elderly Catholics who desperately wanted young people to return to Church.
The issues started when the young people arrived.
“You need to shuffle your feet here, you need to join in the coffee, and do exactly as the group has always done,” Fr Remery said.
He said we were locked up in our way of being.
“It’s in us people to start making a little wall and setting up our garden to defend ourselves from the dangers of nature, build our little house, happy to be there, it’s great,” he said.
Bringing down the walls often left people feeling vulnerable and scared.
“(Jesus is) your ultimate point of reference, not the walls you’ve constructed; the walls are necessary but they also need to be flexible walls,” Fr Remery said.
“You do need to find your anchor point in Jesus Christ rather than the walls that surround you and realising you’re not alone.”
He said to remember Jesus Christ was with you.
Making your walls flexible did not mean constantly questioning things, but periodically “looking at our walls and how we set them up and whether we are still the Church in movement, the outgoing Church”.
Walls were a good metaphor for the former architect.
Fr Remery was raised Catholic but fell away from his faith.
He became an architect and worked for the Dutch Royal Air Force before moving on to a project in the Baltics for Royal Dutch Shell.
His life was ideal – he had a great job, a nice car, a beautiful girlfriend.
“I had everything I had ever dreamt of,” he said, “I thought I had what I needed to be happy.”
He had to leave his job and wound up back at his parents’ home, “leaving everything behind to just be ill”.
“I was back where I started,” he said.
“I was very angry at God.”
But then he started to pray and a little voice was telling him to become a priest.
He gave God two weeks to convince him to become a priest, or else he would go back to architecture.
In those two weeks, everything started pointing him towards the priesthood – television shows, films, books, prayer cards falling out of booklets, a random phone call from an old friend who wondered why he didn’t become a priest.
“After two weeks I had to say, ‘Okay, God, I give up’… longest two weeks of my life,” he said with a laugh.
The moment he said he gave himself over, he felt calm.
“He’s got a very good sense of humour,” Fr Remery said.