Young women tweet messages during a 2012 conference in Washington. Low-cost video messaging carried across increasingly video-friendly social media platforms will define this year's World Youth Day experience in Krakow, Poland, say several organizations. CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

Pilgrims to take sharpened social media strategies to World Youth Day

By  Tom Tracy, Catholic News Service
  • July 12, 2016

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Low-cost video messaging carried across increasingly video-friendly social media platforms will define this year's World Youth Day experience, said several organizational leaders finalizing their media strategies.

Due to the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, and their improved video-capture and mobile-application media-sharing capabilities, World Youth Day is likely to be documented in a way that no other such event has been to date, said Pallottine Father Frank Donio, director of Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington.

He said that in the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, "the digital pieces were there, and we saw the strength of the opportunities for people who couldn't be there to follow along and share in the experience."

"Now that same technology has grown even more, and many more people now have a mobile device to follow along," he told Catholic News Service.

World Youth Day will take place in and around Krakow July 26-31, with Pope Francis leading events July 27-31, including a closing overnight vigil and Mass that is expected to draw as many as 2 million attendees from around the world.

The Catholic Apostolate Center is one of a handful of partner agencies that have been helping the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops develop and disseminate World Youth Day preparatory materials, e-book study guides and online blogs and digital media content, including videos on YouTube and elsewhere.

"World Youth Day is just one aspect of how this understanding of social engagement can be applied in real time," he said, adding that there will be a lot of cross-sharing of original World Youth Day content, produced with both high- and low-technology and shared across such platforms as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

"Video is really where things are at: not long, drawn out videos but something powerful and impactful in a few moments, something real," the priest said, adding that he suggests adding captions to the videos wherever possible because many mobile phone users digest video content with the audio turned down for various reasons.

"Studies indicate that World Youth Day has been shown to be a very formative event: Vocations have come out of it and people have deepened their faith as a result of that experience," Father Donio added. "We want them to continue to the next point: How do you more to a more deeply committed apostle?"

Sarah Yaklic, director of digital media for the Archdiocese of Washington, said her team was applying many of the social media lessons gleaned during Pope Francis' U.S. visit to help connect World Youth Day pilgrims in Poland and the U.S.

"We saw the unique evangelism opportunities and personal conversion stories, so we worked hard in helping people not use social media in isolation, but praying for and helping brothers in need, for example, through our Walk With Francis pledge campaign," Yaklic told CNS.

However, Yaklic said, the real aim for church is achieved when people actually put their mobile devices away and engage with real life.

"Our real goals are not high numbers, but when individuals see something and are moved or inspired to act to prayer, outreach – then we have done the best job we can as digital evangelizers," she said.

The Arizona-based Life Teen International, which for the first time in many years has organized its own World Youth Day pilgrimage trip for nearly 300 young adults, is sending a social media specialist to document the experience mostly through the mobile-phone application Snapchat.

Stephen Lenahan, Life Teen's director of events, said his agency determined Snapchat's new advances in video handling and its own easy editing application make it a great choice for sharing the World Youth Day experience in a continuous and seamless presentation rather than packaged in a series of content segments.

"It will be accomplished through one cellphone outfitted with special lenses; we are bringing our own WiFi hot spots so we can post content as we go and not wait until we get back to the hotel room," Lenahan said. "When you post videos on Facebook or Instagram, typically it's a short clip or a longer clip with editing. But Snapchat automatically ties the video together, and the storytelling can be done quicker."

Life Teen also plans to use Facebook's live streaming feature, he noted.

Paul Jarzembowski, World Youth Day USA coordinator for the USCCB, said for many, social media is one answer to the high cost of international travel associated with events like World Youth Day. It will unite pilgrims and family members at both stateside events and in Poland, he said.

"Both will have had an encounter with Christ in some way – and it would be a joy for each one to learn from the other and to support each other in their ongoing journey of faith. That's what today's technology can do for this experience – it can enhance it in ways more exciting than we ever thought possible.”

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