Bless, tweet, repeat: Pope uses social media to reach public while on tour

Junior Hailey Kater, president of Catholics on Campus, sits at a table outside of Trexler Student Center, thinking about what exactly she would ask Pope Francis if she had the opportunity.

After deciding that it would need to be a serious question, she lands on, “What are your views on traveling for mission outside of your home?” Kater adds that she is disappointed that she cannot be up North to see him on his tour. She is not alone.

Pope Francis isn’t stopping at Queens on his September trip to the United States, but thanks to social media, students like Hailey are still able to be a part of his tour.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave goodbye to Pope Francis as his motorcade departs Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22, 2015. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave goodbye to Pope Francis as his motorcade departs Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 22, 2015.

Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aries, Argentina, is the 266th and current pope of the Roman Catholic Church, as of March 13, 2013. Dubbed the “progressive pope,”  he has taken a less rigid approach to the papacy than those before him, opening up discussion on tough topics within the church such as contraception, homosexuality and climate change.

Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. is the first visit a pope has made since Paul VI in 2008. He arrived in  Washington, D.C. on September 22 and will stay there until September 24. He will then go to New York on September 25 and will finish up his tour in Philadelphia from September 26  to the 27. Along with his famous popemobile, Pope Francis will have scheduled times to greet the public between events–providing one has a ticket.

This trip, the pope is bringing a tool relatively new to the Vatican that is changing the way he can reach out to the public: social media.

By taking over the official Twitter account used by former Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis (@Pontifex) is able to communicate to the masses. His official hash tags #WalkwithFrancis and #PopeinUS can be used to see tweets and pictures directly from his U.S. events.

Kaiter said she is thrilled that the Catholic Church is taking to Twitter.

“Part of new evangelism,” she says, ”is reaching people where they are — reading the Gospel doesn’t mean opening a paper Bible anymore.”

With the pope’s Twitter sitting at around 7 million followers, he is reaching a large, and growing, audience.  A Verizon Wireless representative told The News Journal that Verizon will quadruple cell coverage in Philadelphia–one of the cities the pope will be visiting– by installing temporary mobile antenna towers and by placing antennas on street lights.

The pope’s team also plans to incorporate live streaming at his events. While it is not clear which specific gatherings will be live streamed, apart from TV broadcasted events, the Vatican’s official schedule includes a visit to the U.S. Congress at 9:20 a.m. on Sept. 24 in Washington; Madison Square Garden Mass at 6 p.m. on Sept. 25 in New York; and the Festival of Families at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 in Philadelphia. Though his visit to the U.S. is brief, millions are expected to turn out in hopes of getting a glance at “the people’s pope.”

Although the pope is widely known for his progressive nature, it’s his personal practice of humility and  respectfulness to all that contributes the most to his popularity, not only with the Catholic community, but also with the public at large.

Sophomore Natalia Furr isn’t particularly religious, but she does have an appreciation for Pope Francis.

She likes how he is “outright with his views” and how he is utilizing technology in a positive way to get his news out.

The Catholic Church may be an old institution, but it’s adopting some new tools to connect with a new generation.

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.