This evening I was watching the live feed from Rio as Pope Francis officially opened the 28th World Youth Day on Copacabana beach, renamed by the Twitterati as #Popacabana for the duration of the week. After the Pater Noster (sung beautifully to the Solemn Anaphora Tone, for those interested in that sort of thing), and the final blessing, that great anthem of World Youth Day, Jesus Christ you are my life, struck up. Immediately my mind leapt back to those wonderful days in Madrid a few years ago, and I quickly fired-off a text to a Norwegian priest-friend who is in Rio, reminiscing and promising prayers from England for the event.
Live feed. Twitter. SMS. World Youth Day has become an amazing Catholic moment in the social media world, and we have almost missed the significance of what is going on here. As I type this, #PontifexRio, #PapaFrancisco, and #Copacabana, have all been trending worldwide on Twitter, not just from on the ground in Brazil, but from across the world, as young Catholics enter into World Youth Day like never before.
In his message for WYD this year, Pope Benedict XVI (as he was then) spoke specifically about the need for young people to engage a ‘missionary commitment’ in the area of social communications. As well as quoting his Message for the 43rd World Communications Day in 2009, he asked young WYD pilgrims, who “have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this ‘digital continent'”, and to “[l]earn how to use these media wisely”. It seems to have worked.