I first used the Internet in the early 1990s when I was studying in America. Being thousands of miles away from home, I hungered frequently for news of events from Ireland. News from family and friends came regularly but the prospect of a daily link with somewhere in Ireland was very attractive. The college where I was studying provided access to the Internet to its students and it soon became a link to home and to the wider world.

At the time, the Internet was in its infancy. The US military were its principal users, followed by universities and technology companies. The connection speed then was 2,400 – broadband connections in Ireland are running at 2,000,000 as a minimum now! On a winter’s evening back then, I went browsing the Internet for Irish information. To my amazement, and after hours of waiting, I found one computer in UCC which was visible on the Internet then! It’s all changed since.

This past summer, students have logged onto the Internet from thousands of places across the globe to get the results of their exams from UCC, CIT and other colleges. Second-level students got news of their CAO offers from computers. Several priest colleagues and I regularly communicate with couples who are planning their marriage ceremony by exchanging emails, booklets and website links. Some couples plan their entire wedding online. Our world is now filling with services and products which can only be acquired by people who have access to the Internet. The day is fast approaching when music will not be available for sale in shops; videos will not be for rent except online; photographs will not be printed and the daily newspaper will be old news!

In the midst of the rush to go online, it’s get very difficult to tell the difference between a website which is reliable and credible from the many that are mischievous and some downright repulsive. After all, the Internet is occupied and used by the same mix of people that walk the streets – except that it’s easier to be anonymous or false on a website.

Most people who use the Internet have collected a bundle of Internet sites which they regularly visit for a whole range of reasons. I’m sure that not too many people count religion related sites in their bookmarks! So let me introduce you to some of my virtual stopping off points, including some religion related ones, and a few that have been recommended by friends.

  • Sometimes when the news media report about the Catholic Church, they can be selective in what they choose to report. It’s useful to be able to find out what the Pope actually said! The Vatican website is at www.vatican.va and another good source is www.catholicnews.com – the Catholic News Service – a US news agency that supplies content to the Catholic press. It also covers international stories.
  • Because the Internet uses mixed media formats, i.e. words, images, sound, etc, it lends itself very well to people who want to present a place to invite reflection, meditation or inspiration. One of the biggest success stories in this format is www.sacredspace.ie where visitors are guided through a different prayer sequence each day without leaving their computer. Local versions includes the photo and meditation site of Fr James McSweeney’s at www.2u.ie and Fr Donagh O’Shea’s www.goodnews.ie
  • A man who lives in Bandon runs one of the busiest photography websites around. It now has over 2,000 registered users who offer tips and techniques to photography enthusiasts and professions at all levels. Its busiest section is where people show their own photos and invite comments from others. See www.photographyireland.net
  • Because the Internet is more anonymous that other media, it can be a help to people who want support or help with personal issues. Among the places that people may find help are www.samaritans.org – they have a facility where people can email a message if you don’t feel like talking.
  • A few Irish churches have begun to broadcast church services, including Mass, live over the Internet. (This is only for people who have broadband.) So you can watch Mass from St Augustine’s (Cork) or in Clonard Monastery (Belfast) at www.churchservices.tv
  • Using the Internet to study, whether for general information, self-improvement or a degree is increasingly popular. The study of our faith online has also become a possibility in recent years. Some centres of education offer everything up to a post-graduate degree in theology. Online courses have the advantage of being flexible because one can fit in the time for study to suit a work or home timetable which might otherwise make time for a journey to college impossible. The Irish Dominicans have committed a lot of resources to their online courses at www.prioryinstitute.com and one of the busy online theology centres in the UK is Maryvale Institute in Birmingham at www.maryvale.ac.uk. The Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy (Dublin) also offers modules of its theology courses on the Internet at onlinemilltown.com.
  • The website of our own diocese also offers some interesting online features. At www.corkandross.org you can find times of Masses in all the churches of the diocese for weekdays, weekends and holy days and search by time or place. You can also preview the scripture readings for the Mass of the next day and the next weekend.
  • Couples getting married are avid users of the Internet and several good resources are available on the general site www.gettingmarried.ie as well as www.accord.ie. (You can check at the latter to see if pre-marriage courses are available in Bantry.)