Fr. Matthew Widder (right), shown with Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, has prayed the Rosary every evening since September 2020 on the Catholic Community of Waukesha Facebook page. (File photo)
Because of the popularity of social media, some priests are utilizing it to reach out to their flocks as a method of ministry.
Fr. Matthew Widder, the pastor of the Catholic Community of Waukesha, sees it as a means of evangelization that he began during the early pandemic shutdowns as an approach to connect in prayer.
For almost three years, Fr. Widder has prayed an evening Rosary over Facebook without missing a day. It began in March 2020, while he was still the pastor of the Sheboygan North Catholic Parishes: St. Clement, St. Dominic and Holy Name of Jesus.
“At that time, we prayed the Rosary on Facebook once a week and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Shortly before May 2020, I read something that Pope Francis wrote inviting pastors to pray the Rosary with their people every day in May for the end of the pandemic,” he said. “I discerned that I was called to do this through Facebook and began praying the Rosary on Facebook every evening until I was reassigned to the Catholic Community of Waukesha in August 2020.”
Beginning Sept. 5, 2020, Fr. Widder and his Rosary family began praying on the Catholic Community of Waukesha Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ccwauk). Originally, he anticipated praying from September through October, the month of the Rosary. It quickly became apparent to him that there were myriad graces associated with the nightly Rosary and a community had formed.
“It would have been imprudent to stop the nightly Rosary, so as it is, we’ve prayed every day since September 2020,” he said. “Sometimes, for various reasons, the time changes from the normal 8:30 p.m., but every day we pray.”
On most nights, there are at least 100 devices tuned in to the live Rosary. Others tune in as they have time, such as in the mornings or later in the evening after the video posts. Fr. Widder explained that video metrics demonstrate that they reach out to 600-1000 households per day.
“The reaction from parishioners is very positive. We want to foster an environment and culture of prayer in our parishes and homes, and the Rosary family has been a great way to do that. At 8:30 p.m., we’re praying, and whether someone joins for one Hail Mary or the full Rosary, people know that the opportunity to pray is there,” Fr. Widder said. “Sometimes people post prayers for traumatic situations that are unfolding as we’re praying, and it’s so important to not just say we’ll pray for people but have an avenue to reach out at the moment to invite others to pray. People pray the Rosary in all kinds of different contexts — some people pray it as they’re going to sleep, others as they’re out for a walk, some while doing chores and others in their prayer corner. It’s a way of meeting people wherever they might be at that time.”
In addition to posting the various petitions, one special benefit is the ability for members to “like” other prayer requests, or the opportunity to inquire about someone to whom they’ve been offering prayers, said Fr. Widder. Although they are praying on social media, the group has demonstrated a deep love and care for one another.
“There have been many answered prayers in the course of the Rosary family,” said Fr. Widder. “(We have reports of) healings from cancer and other illnesses, and many people comment that after praying the Rosary they feel a sense of peace. During the Rosary, there have also been some ongoing intentions that have ended the way we had prayed they would. There have also been times when people have prayed the Rosary with their loved ones while they’re in hospice care. In those moments, the Rosary is a great way of looking to God for strength and acceptance.”
It is edifying for Fr. Widder to see the Rosary has gained a resurgence and that with perseverance, those who pray it will see a change in their lives and those around them.
“What makes the Rosary powerful is that we take on the eyes and mind of Mary while meditating on the mysteries of Christ’s life. We can see that just as we meditate on the different mysteries — Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious — there are events in our own lives and in the world that connect to these mysteries. For example, when we’re praying for someone who’s suffering, we see in their suffering a connection to the sorrows that Jesus endured. It’s a sorrowful mystery that’s happening right in our midst.”
Most evenings, Fr. Widder prays the Rosary at one of the four parishes that comprise the Catholic Community of Waukesha, but most of all, he prays at St. William, where the rectory is located. He focuses the video on the Blessed Sacrament in church. Some parish members also join live to help pray the Rosary, as does Fr. Patrick Heppe, Pastor Emeritus of the Catholic Community of Waukesha.
“The majority of people in the Rosary family are in the Waukesha area, but the reach goes much further beyond that. Many people from Sheboygan, where I used to be, and West Bend, where Fr. Patrick Heppe was once assigned, often join in. There are people from all around the archdiocese and several different states,” said Fr. Widder. “The general title for our group is the Rosary Family/Rosary Warriors. One of the themes that have developed as a motto of the Rosary Family/Rosary Warriors is to ‘take care of one another.’”