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Pope for the Twitter age

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@SistineSeagull's Twitter profileAt 3:30am on 14 March I was sitting up at the General Secretariat of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, with one eye on Twitter and the other on Facebook, and the TV remote flipping between BBC World and SkyNews.

Although thousands were gathering in St Peter's square in Rome, not much seemed to be happening. I amused myself following the Twitter feed of @SistineSeagull — an account which attracted 3000 followers in 30 minutes after an unsuspecting bird perched on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, and which waxed lyrical for the entertainment of the bleary-eyed in the Southern Hemisphere.

By 4:50am, the feeling had changed. A strange mix of anxiety and excitement took the place of the novelty of the bird. 'It's taking too long. I think they have someone,' Fr Brian Lucas, general secretary of the Bishops Conference, said to me. Quickly, I browsed for channels broadcasting live feeds, and finally settled on ABC24 and the Vatican's own CTV, which had a live feed of the chimney itself.

My main concern was ensuring that the aussiepopealarm was ready to go off. Sadly, although the trigger was pressed, the SMS carrier pigeon that bore the 'habemuspapam' message never reached the phones of some papal enthusiasts. Others were ceremoniously woken between 5:08 and 6:10 as the smoke began and the bells pealed out across Rome — a more traditional incarnation of 'social media'?

At 5:06am Australian time, white smoke billowed out of the chimney, and my various devices went crazy with texts, phone calls, tweets and Facebook statuses. The next hour was nerve-wracking. I was on the phone checking the status of the popealarm and preparing statements.

Meanwhile, a humble man was getting dressed in white and greeting the Cardinals.

Some say electing a pope is more a political process than a spiritual one. But when Bergoglio was announced, my faith increased a little. In a pectoral cross he has worn as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and without the embroidered stole and traditional mozzetta, a gentle man emerged onto the balcony to elated screams.

A Jesuit pope from Latin America who has chosen the name Francis; a Pope who explicitly enunciates a preferential option for the poor and lives his life in their service is a dream come true for many people. Francis of Assisi challenged the Church back to its radical, humble roots; it seems Pope Francis might do the same.

The power of social media was manifest during the coming days. With #habemuspapam trending on Twitter and images of Pope Francis sitting on a bus doing the rounds of Facebook, there was a sense of the power of such media for the promotion of justice.

Images of the Pope washing and kissing the feet of women, cancer and AIDS patients, and the poor in the slums, went viral across Facebook; as did stories of a man who preferred the bus to a chauffeur-driven limo; and who exhorted Argentinians to save their money to give to the poor rather than attending his installation in Rome.

There were jokes too; perhaps inspired by Pope Francis' own cheeky sense of humour, people have been brave enough to celebrate faith with humour on social media. My favourite joke about the new Pope comes from a young Filipino Jesuit: Why didn't Pope Francis lift both hands when he emerged on the balcony? Because the crowd might have launched into a rousing rendition of 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'.

In a historic address to journalists, Francis recognised that their often maligned and misunderstood work can play a part in spreading a message of justice founded in Christian faith. He spoke encouragingly to those who had worked around the clock to bring the news to the world, and encouraged the more than 5000 assembled journalists to view the Church not as a political animal but as a 'spiritual institution with its virtues and its sins'.

'The church exists to communicate this: truth, goodness and beauty personified,' he said. 'We are all called not to communicate ourselves, but this essential trio.'

And how did we know within hours, even minutes, that he said all of this? Through the media. He proclaimed his vision for a Church of the poor, and it is up to all Catholics now to implement it. We can proclaim this good news to the poor to the far ends of the earth — even to Argentina, the Pope might jokingly say — and no longer will it take a carrier pigeon, but perhaps just a tweet (maybe by @SistineSeagull) to change hearts and minds. 

Beth Doherty headshotBeth Doherty is communications officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and and edits mediablog.catholic.org.au 

Topic tags: Beth Doherty, @SistineSeagull, Pope Francis



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Existing comments

Dear Pope Francis. Looks good and will start with huge amounts of good will. But will need to deliver. He will quickly need to open up fully about his dealings with the junta in the 70s and his interactions over the "two Jesuits"...if needs be just apologise and say he got it wrong/was scared...whatever THE TRUTH is! The days of the Vatican..."we donq

Eugene | 20 March 2013  

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