People use phones to capture images of Pope Francis as he leads a meeting with young people in the square adjacent to the cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 22. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Speaking Out: The Pope, social media and me

By  Speaking Out, Declan Riley
  • September 27, 2018

In my short lifetime, I have already seen three popes preside as the head of our Church. 

Pope St. John Paul II was one of the most influential popes in the modern Church. Pope Benedict XVI is known for his historical knowledge and traditional approach. And we now have Pope Francis, who is the first Latin American pope.

It’s no secret that youth are attending church less and less. Reversing that trend means the Church must consider the tactics and tools available. There’s no question one of the most powerful is social media. 

Pope Benedict XVI posted his first tweet on Dec. 12, 2012 under the Twitter handle @Pontifex, which is a Latin word that means “bridge builder.” In just under two minutes, the account was flooded with more than 2,000 tweets expressing joy, excitement and admiration (but also skepticism). He had tens of thousands of followers by the end of his first day.

Pope Francis followed in his predecessor’s footsteps and brought the Church’s presence to Instagram (@franciscus) on March 20, 2016. With 5.7 million followers on Instagram and 17.8 million followers on Twitter, the Pope’s social media presence is now an essential part of his pastoral ministry. With a click of a button, Francis’ messages reach all corners of the world in an instant.

I follow the Pope because I like the messages he posts on his social media. His posts are a daily reminder of the more important things in life. Social media is a huge distraction and as I scroll through Instagram and happen upon something from the Pope, it reminds me and refocuses me. 

I think most people would agree that John Paul II, who was the first pontiff to use the Internet, would have had a very strong social media presence. He had such a way of connecting with young people that people still remember fondly. 

My most vivid memory of Pope John Paul II was the exchange he had with a young girl during his last visit to Canada in 2002. This young girl was so moved by meeting the Pope that she ran off crying and John Paul II was just so confused but was forced to continue the service. That moment really fascinated me. It made me want to learn more about him and the Church he represented. 

The future of technology in general has great potential for our Church. There is already a virtual reality tour available for the Vatican Museums, but what about VR tours of St. Peter’s Basilica or even the entire city? What about the potential of artificial intelligence with the Vatican Secret Archives?

I would love to see a future where the Church feels accessible in the digital spaces that the modern world has created. I would love to see the Pope livestream from his social media. Something like this would give a real group feel to a simple broadcast from the head of our great Catholic Church.

(Riley, 23, is a third-year journalism student at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alta.)

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