Pope Francis isn’t a regular Pope, he’s a cool Pope – or at least that’s what many millennials say.
He’s expressed positive views of the internet and has embraced online communication.
“The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” Pope Francis said last year during a radio address on Vatican Radio . “This is something truly good, a gift from God.”
A gift from God that enables him to reach new audiences: young religious and non-religious people all over the world.
Francis’ first Tweet came just four days after he officially became the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13, 2013. But this was not the first tweet sent from the @Pontifex handle.
Pope Benedict XVI was the first Pope to join Twitter and from his nine accounts, he sent 40 tweets. When Benedict’s tenure ended, his English language account boasted a modest 1.9 million followers.
Now, Francis’ English account has about 7.1 million followers. His Spanish language account holds the top spot among his nine accounts with 9.8 million followers.
One of his most recent tweets displays his ability to comment on current events, like the Syrian refugee crisis, and uses appropriate hashtags.
“May every parish and religious community in Europe host a refugee family. #Jubilee #refugeeswelcome,” Francis tweeted on Sept. 8.
Francis’s nine Twitter accounts combined still don’t equal the 67.5 million Justin Bieber followers.
Since 2013, Francis has tweeted more than 600 times and his followers, on and off Twitter, have noticed.
One student at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School in Fayetteville said he joined Twitter just to follow Francis.
“Actually, I got a Twitter and everything set up so that I can follow him and all of his messages,” Jon Mendizabal, 17, said.
Mendizabal is one of 20 Our Lady of Mercy students and chaperones who will be making the trip to Philadelphia to see Francis speak at the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
Mark Tolcher, the Our Lady of Mercy religion teacher who will be leading the school’s field trip to see the Pope, said he believes Francis appeals to young people because he embraces social media and is pretty open about his views.
“The social medial thing makes him instantly cool, but he is also very candid and so they respond to his willingness to be candid,” Tolcher said.
Candidness and social media may prove to be the winning combination in connecting with millennials — one third of whom consider themselves non-religious, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.
“That just makes people feel like he’s more accessible and people kind of feel like they know him because he’s putting himself out there,” said Amanda Foutch, 21-year-old senior at Georgia Tech. Foutch is one of 55 Tech students who will make the nearly 12 hour drive to see Francis in Philly.
Bianca Lopez, 15, follows both Francis’ Spanish and English language Twitter accounts.
“Even though he’s in Italy and in Rome, he can be in contact with people in the United States, in Mexico, in Europe just through social media,” said Lopez, a sophomore at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School. Lopez is one of six Cristo Rey Atlanta students who will be traveling to Philadelphia to see Francis.
A catholic news website with ties to the Vatican, Aleteia created a ‘digital street team’ to increase awareness of the Pope’s visit and his year of mercy among young people in the U.S.
Connor Dwyer, 23, an Atlanta graphic design graduate student at SCAD, will be one of just three members of Aleteia’s Pope is Hope digital street team flying to Philadelphia for Francis’ visit. The other 47 team members will share stories via the hashtag #GoodIsWinning from their home cities.
Though Dwyer isn’t a catholic, he calls himself a follower of Jesus.
“He (Francis) has taken a step away from the traditional religion and making it more of a lifestyle. I think that’s attractive to people that wouldn’t consider themselves overly religious,” Dwyer said. “It’s caught the attention of people like me and my generation, like this guy is being genuine, and it’s not this unattainable religion. It’s very tangible, and it transcends the Catholic Church.”
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