WEST CLARKSVILLE, N.Y. — For seven years, two people – a 70-something friar and a 30-something layman – have been collaborating electronically to bring people closer to God. In August 2011, they launched the “Clouds and Sun“ podcast and now Daniel Riley, OFM, and Greg Licamele are preparing the 200th installment in the series.
“What we aim to do is help people discover that we have a merciful and loving God who is with them right where they are,” said Daniel, who professed his first vows in 1966.
The podcast, which is published every few weeks, is a feature of the Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Community in Western New York, where Dan is president and animator. The podcast can be found on the Mountain’s website and listened to through iTunes and Apple Podcasts, as well as through Google Play Music.
Praying by Listening
As a team – with Dan providing the content and Licamele arranging the production – the podcasts reach people around the globe. Listeners are of varying backgrounds and ages – from college students to retirees to the elderly.
“Some people listen to some podcasts repeatedly or in a series, perhaps while they’re in the car, or while they’re running,” said Dan. “While some people like it for the content, other people have said that they listen because they like hearing my voice. Podcasting is interesting because it allows you to connect with people on a visceral level. People want to feel that connection. Because of this, podcasting can be very Franciscan. I’ve heard some people say that listening has brought them out of a feeling of loneliness.”
The name of the podcast, “Clouds and Sun,” “reflects both nature, the truth in our lives and the beauty in both the light of the sun and the shadows of the clouds,” said Dan.
Its purpose is “to surprise people with their own depth, in an informal setting,” said Dan, adding that he always begins by saying “hello, my friend.” “I think about engaging with a person instead of an audience, which is a very Franciscan approach. Everyone is praying, even if we don’t know how or don’t recognize it as prayer. We expect clergy to teach us to pray. God is dwelling within us.”
“I’m not creating ideas,” Dan continued, “Rather, I’m taking advantage of the humor, the comfort, and the compassion that we all have. I’m also not here to teach. I’m here to do – to pray with people through meditation and conversation. By using this form of media, we make the Good News accessible.”
“St. Francis challenges us to preach the Gospel using words if necessary and, in this case, words, music and cadence are all bundled together to share the Good News,” said Licamele, who graduated in 1999 from St. Bonaventure University. “We’re a society inundated with information nearly every nano-second. We offer these podcasts to take a step away, to reflect and then to go back into the world carrying forth not only a message of peace from a podcast but a larger sense of ourselves and of God’s love for us.”
“These podcasts continue the Franciscan tradition of interacting with people where they are,” said Suzanne English, a member of the Mt, Irenaeus communications committee. “From Francis of Assisi’s first nativity scene to today, the friars have worked to bring God into the lives of people in ways they understand. With the able help from Greg, Fr. Dan is able to reach a broad spectrum of people who may rarely or never visit Mt. Irenaeus, but can appreciate his thoughts and his guidance in maintaining the spiritual center of our lives.”
The first podcast was published on Aug. 18, 2011 with the title “Our Parched Hearts.”
“This podcast and the next few had a coincidental theme of water as the Northeast was experiencing a deluge of it for nearly a month,” said Licamele, who leads digital communications as a full-time esrvant for a local government outside of Washington. “In podcast #4 of Sept. 11, 2011, Fr. Dan not only reflected on the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, but also about his time in northern Virginia, where I live, a day before extraordinary, almost biblical storms…. This theme of water was very prominent.”
Since the series was launched, podcasts have been recorded all around the United States, in places from the quiet of the Mountain to the shores of California and places in between. Titles of the podcasts have included “Open to Good News” and The World Needs Love” to seasonal themes such as “Awestruck During Advent” and “Entering Holy Week.”
Slowing Down to Reflect
Through the years, the podcast producers have received positive feedback.
“We’ve received a wonderful range of comments from people,” said Licamele. “Many have thanked us for this ministry and the chance to slow down a bit. Others have shared deep reflections on how a particular podcast helped them through very difficult times in their lives. We’ve also heard from people who, while they enjoy new podcasts, go back and listen to ones that struck them in very meaningful ways. We’ve also heard of a few small groups that gather to listen to our podcasts together – including Alaska.”
“It’s amazing that our project has gone that far – from the backwoods of Western New York,” added Dan.
“For those of us who know Fr. Dan, his podcasts bring back memories of homilies in the chapel, as well as drawing us into reflection and prayer, as we always have done at the Mountain. Even for new listeners who may have never have met Fr. Dan, the podcasts remind us to take time for those important moments of reflection, when we walk more closely with our God and consider his will for our lives,” said English.
The collaborators determine the content with a shared sense of seasonality – both the liturgical and the natural, according to Licamele, who is involved with Mt. Irenaeus as chair of the communications committee and member of the board of trustees.
“My working relationship with Greg is very fraternal partnership. Even though we’re three states away, we feel closer,” said Dan, referring to Greg as “a dear friend” along with his wife Elizabeth whose marriage ceremony Dan performed in 2001.“We talk about the details of the podcasts through texts and phone calls. We see each other face-to-face about two to three times a year. I look to him for direction.”
The idea of the podcast arose eight years ago when Dan was planning to take a sabbatical and the Mountain staff wanted to arrange a “Where’s Dan?” feature. A St. Bonaventure graduate student suggested that the friar write a blog. Eventually, the blog became a podcast.
The podcasts are produced using a method that Greg has refined through the years.
“Fr. Dan records on his phone and sends me a file,” he said. “Once I have the file, I edit it in Apple’s Garage Band program, where I add music, descriptions, cover art, metadata and then publish it on our Mountain website and on our social media channels.”
Dan, who graduated from SBU in 1964, and was not an enthusiastic user of technology for a while – he rarely uses email – appreciates the value of podcasting and recommends the communication method.
“If a friar is interested in starting a podcast, I think it is worth trying,” said Dan, acknowledging that his style will not work for everyone. “What matters is finding a way of authentically engaging with people.”
“What I’ve learned is if you want to do it, go and try it,” he added. “Do it simply and in the popular manner of doing things. Make your inner self accessible.”
In the future, Dan would like to do a series of podcasts on Thomas Merton.
“I want to take some of his writing and convert them into something audible,” he said. “The ones I’ve already done have been very popular. People are so hungry for an experience of God and spirituality. As Franciscans, we have so much that we can offer.”
The 200th podcast will be available soon – close to the seventh anniversary of the first installment.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province. Maria Hayes provided research for this story.