Q & A with Sr. Véronique Rouquet, sharing God's presence on the internet

by Elisabeth Auvillain

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Sr. Véronique Rouquet is one of the four people who run Notre Dame du Web (Our Lady of the Web), a portal created by the Ignatian family in France in 2000.

An English teacher who has held different missions in in France, Rouquet recently moved to Créteil, a suburban town southeast of Paris, where she lives in community with other sisters of her congregation, La Xavière. She recently began teaching at a junior highschool there.

GSR asked her to explain the importance of Notre Dame du Web, which saw close to 10 percent growth in the last year, from 4,553 visitors in 2017 to 4,997 visitors in 2018, a slow but constant growth in its audience.

GSR: Why is it important for the Catholic Church to be on the web?

Rouquet: Members of the Ignatian family like to quote Ignatius when he suggested to look for and find God in everything and everywhere. The web plays an increasingly important role in people's lives nowadays.

The founders of the website Notre Dame du Web thought the Catholic Church had to be present on the digital continent. It seems obvious today, but at the time, in 2000, it was a revolutionary idea, and we were the first ones to put a retreat online. The web did not seem so important then. Now, everyone knows how the web offers lots of possibilities, providing text, pictures, sounds and videos. All these elements can help people pray, meditate and get closer to God.

Our aim is to provide a link between daily life and spiritual life. Daily life becomes the place where they can pay more attention to the way God is very much at their side in concrete things. Find God in everything, to quote Ignatius again!

Who is on the team that runs the website?

Right now, there are four of us: Claire de Leffe, a Cenacle sister; Grégoire Le Bel, a Jesuit priest; Dominique de Pirey, a layperson; and myself. We have in common to follow Ignatian spirituality.

Working together is a wonderful experience. We discuss the themes for our retreats, we exchange ideas, and we read and comment on each other's texts before publication. It is real teamwork. We enjoy it, and we try to meet in person whenever it is possible.

This is a mission that we have taken on for a number of years. Members of the team change, but we make sure there is a continuity in our work. Changes mean that we suggest new ideas or new ways to pray. Right now, our team includes Dominique de Pirey, who specializes in reading artwork with the eyes of faith and sees there a way to strengthen our faith. This mission is a very interesting one. I have enjoyed it a lot, even though it is time-consuming, about one day a week. For us Xavières who have a job, like teaching for me, it can be challenging.

Altogether, 12 women religious congregations of Ignatian spirituality support Notre Dame du Web along with the Society of Jesus, including the Sisters of St. Andrew, the Society of Helpers of the Holy Soul, and the Sisters of the Cenacle.

In the beginning, Notre Dame du Web offered mainly retreats during Advent and Lent. Are retreats still a very important part of the services you provide?

We started in 2000 with online retreats. Every year, we choose a theme for each important liturgical time, like Advent and Lent. We also offer a basic one named "First Steps." It aims at helping people who want to learn to pray to experiment with the Ignatian way of doing it, the Spiritual Exercises. The retreat lasts three weeks and includes seven stages. People who have completed it are invited to continue with a second one, "Come and See."

All our retreats are free. Participants enroll and receive messages regularly, sometimes every day, sometimes twice a week in their email. These messages may include along with a text from the Scriptures a commentary, a picture to help them pray, or excerpts from a musical piece, for example. All these elements aim at helping them get closer to God and progress toward Christmas or Easter. The main thing is that they are asked to do one thing every day, even when there is no new message every day.

We offer more and more retreats on different topics. This summer, we published a retreat named "Travel in the Bible" where we mention the journeys undertaken by Abraham, Job, Jonas, Paul, Tobias, Mary and Jesus. The aim of such a retreat is to see how the journeys undertaken by biblical characters can lighten our own roads following Christ. We discover how we are brothers and sisters of these biblical characters who went through changes, inner transformations or more visible peregrinations in their relation to Christ.

Participants are invited to express their thoughts and share their experiences on our spiritual wall. We accompany them to start from their own experience and pray to understand what is expected from them.

Some viewers might then be interested in a real retreat: Notre Dame du Web lists all retreats in several spiritual centers in France, Belgium and Switzerland. More than 9,000 people took part in one or more of our retreats in the last year.

Do you know who your followers are?

Right now, we have 19,036 subscribers to our monthly newsletter, compared to 17,348 last year. Who are they? It is difficult to know. People who comment on our proposals in writing on our spiritual wall, for example, are not the only ones who follow our propositions for prayers during retreats or meditations or for themselves. The spiritual wall is really a place for sharing of experiences.

We are not offering a theology course. This is not a Bible study course. It offers means to get closer to God's presence. We comment on the Scriptures and the word of God, but to help people question it and question their own faith in order to move forward. We do not choose themes closely linked to the news, even though when we offer a retreat on ecology, we know it is very much in a lot of people's minds and has been the subject of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'.

Some of our followers tell us they use some of the elements we provide to talk to children or teenagers at Sunday school meetings. Others take them for their prayer groups. Families also tell us they follow our retreats, and we try to make sure they can use some of the elements we offer during the retreats.

We also know we have French-speaking followers in countries very far away from France. That is something the internet makes possible. Like many Catholic groups in France, we would like to have younger followers. We try carefully to send material that can be used by every person who would like to get closer to God: young people, old people, families, single people, etc. We hope everyone can find elements that help their prayer.

Our website is constantly updated and enriched with new sections.

Do you use apps for smartphones?

The Jesuits from the French province have created Prie en Chemin, the French version of Pray as You Go, an app that can be downloaded on a smartphone. This is a daily prayer session you can listen to on your way to work. It is a 12-minute daily prayer with music, readings and suggestions for praying. Followers are meant to become more aware of God's presence in their lives, listen and reflect on God's word, and grow in their relationship with God.

[Elisabeth Auvillain is a freelance journalist based in Paris.]