Social media, WYD, and a 'tweetable' Pope – evangelizing in a digital era

Social media, WYD, and a 'tweetable' Pope – evangelizing in a digital era

Social media, WYD, and a 'tweetable' Pope – evangelizing in a digital era

.- As thousands of young people prepare to hit Krakow in July for World Youth Day, the race to spread the word about the event is well underway, with organizers turning to social media as a primary platform in conveying the message of a very “sharable” Pope Francis.

“Francis is a digital Pope because he’s physical. He has a corporeality, a physicality which is expressed very well with his body posture, with the gestures he does, with his facial expressions,” Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, told CNA.

The Pope's words are tangibly expressed through his actions, the priest said, noting that this “physicality” emerges on social media “almost with, I would say, powerfulness.”

Pope Francis “doesn’t speak with complex speeches,” but rather in simple phrases, “and these are very easily tweetable and shareable. It’s a message which circulates in networks very easily.”

Fr. Spadaro, editor of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, will be among some 70 journalists traveling to Krakow on board the papal plane with Francis for his appearance at World Youth Day.

A veteran in covering papal trips, Fr. Spadaro said an increasing emphasis on social media was already seen in the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, and that the social dimension of this year’s encounter “will be a very important moment to hold in consideration.”

Jamie Lynn Black, a young American working in English on the International Media Team for WYD in Krakow, told CNA that social media “is one of the main ways we communicate the message of WYD.”

With a team of volunteers based in Krakow and individual volunteers working remotely throughout the world, the team is currently interacting in 20 languages.

Gustavo Huguenin, social media coordinator for this year’s WYD event, told CNA that as July draws nearer, “we have intensified our work to inform pilgrims, engage Catholic audience, and attract new followers to discover this amazing experience.”

In terms of platforms, the social media team has already gone digital on 11 different social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Youtube, Flickr, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, and Soundcloud.

While not all of the networks are available in each of the 20 working languages, Facebook features the entire palate. Among the languages available are Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Japanese, Maltese, Filipino, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

Black, a native of Philadelphia, said her experience with WYD stems back to a meaningful experience she had in the 2002 gathering in Toronto with St. John Paul II, which had a strong impact on her faith.

Fast forward to 2015, when she was finishing up graduate studies in communications at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Black was given the opportunity to coordinate international media for the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, and through that experience was able to jump on board with the WYD Krakow team.

She estimates that “as many as 2.5 million pilgrims” could make their way to Krakow in July, and that social media will be a primary way for the youth to share memories and special moments with friends and family.

However, Black also noted that there are many youth who will not be able to make it to the encounter, so social media “is the perfect way not just to inform them about what is happening here but to include them in the dialogue and the experience.”

“We also hope that social media will help us to spread the message of WYD and of Pope Francis, his message of mercy, to those who many not have otherwise known about our event,” she said.

For his part, Huguenin explained that the international media team will be keeping an eye out for anything published on the Pope Francis’ own social media accounts, in order to promote how the Pope himself “talks with young people in the digital world.”

“We will share all messages about WYD and create content inspired by that,” he said, and told those following the coverage to keep an eye out for the hashtag “#krakow2016,” which is the official tag being used by the WYD communications team.

In terms of using social media as a means of evangelization, Fr. Spadaro said that rather than being an “instrument,” the networks actually build their own digital “environment.”

“The network is not an instrument to use for an end, but a life environment in which one’s own reflections, images of one’s life, dialogue between people, are shared,” he said, noting that these can be used for both good and bad purposes.

“So we need to go out from the mentality of the use of social networks and enter that of living evangelically the digital environment…I think that the Church is called to be there where the people are: today people are on social media so the Church is called to be on social media and not to use it.”