At the last European Assembly in Slovakia in 2008 it was proposed that the European Dominican laity make use of modern technology by launching a lay preaching website to publish stories of fruitful use of our opportunities to preach the Good News by word, gesture and example. The Assembly appointed a team of four – three lay Dominicans and the Promoter General – to manage this new initiative. The lay members were chosen not least because they are all in one way or another professionals with words: they are a couple from Brussels, Guido Van Damme, who is a journalist; Bénédicte Van Damme, his wife, who is a translator; and me, Ruth Anne Henderson, a Scot living in Italy, an academic in the field of English language studies. It is useful too that we are each fluent in at least two languages and competent in at least one more.
The group met for three working days in late September/early October 2008, at Santa Sabina in Rome, to make the initial policy decisions and choose a name and a format for the website. As none of us has advanced computer skills, we have been greatly helped since the summer of 2009 by Gabriel Silva, thanks to whose intervention we were able to design and implement the website.
The three intensive days in autumn 2008 were followed by a further meeting in September 2009, then another in December of the same year. I joined Fr David in Santa Sabina and the team met via a Skype video conference; we also maintained (and continue to maintain) frequent email contact, and for the past few months have been able to meet via Skype without travelling far from our homes.
As a result, the website was officially launched in October 2009 and all Dominican Provinces and Vicariates were informed. Thanks to the system developed by Gabriel Silva, we were able to manage the website ourselves and post stories in various languages. It was decided not to limit the number of languages to those known by the team (French, English, German, Dutch, Spanish and Italian), but to extend it to Russian, Polish and Czech so as to extend the possibility of contributing to the whole of Europe.
We were dogged by problems of various kinds in the first two years. Guido had to undergo a major heart operation, then broke his hip a year later, which obviously kept Bénédicte occupied and made it impossible for either to work on the site for some time; in the meantime, Ruth had a head-on collision with a drunk driver and had associated problems to deal with. Bénédicte has also suffered from periods of ill health, which was particularly unfortunate as she is the one who has learned how to keep the site up to date. The website also had major technical problems, which resulted at the end of 2010 in having to change the web address, which is now – and will remain – www.laicatuspraedicans.net.
After an early burst of activity which allowed us to offer stories in French, English, German and Italian, the pace slowed and over the past few months we have received very few new contributions, despite appeals at lay Dominican meetings (national and local), on various Dominican websites, including the Curia Generalizia and ECLDF, in IDI and other OP periodicals in many Provinces. All contributions are posted under pseudonyms – we are not seeking individual fame! – and the team reserves the right to edit stories to conform with what has been established as the house style. In a number of cases we have been able to offer versions in several languages of a single story, and we would be particularly glad to have offers of collaboration from native speakers of all European languages to translate contributions, so that the laity in every country can read all the stories. It is hoped to establish a network of correspondents in all European Dominican Provinces; these individuals would be responsible for collecting the stories from their Province and sending them on to the team.
The texts we are looking for are anecdotes that reflect the unexpected ways in which we find opportunities of participating in the Order’s preaching mission: chance meetings, a word spoken at the right moment, an encounter with a friend or a stranger that in some way touched their lives. The stories should be short – many people find it tiring to read long texts on a computer monitor; longer, more reflective texts can often find a place on the ECLDF website.
Do please spread the word about this website, send your own contributions and encourage your brothers and sisters in your Fraternities to do the same. Our email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org; we are also happy to supply our individual email addresses.
We look forward to hearing from you.
The laicatuspraedicans team: Fr David, Bénédicte, Guido, Ruth Anne