The Pope Speaks Through a Burning Bush Called Twitter

While growing up, going to CCD on Sundays, I remember hearing stories of God speaking through a burning bush…. In 2015 that burning bush happens to have a twitter handle and its @Pontifex.

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Ok… so maybe the Pope (@Pontifex) being on Twitter isn’t exactlyyyy the same the thing as God speaking through a burning bush… but the new Jesuit Pope is certainly setting the world aflame with his use of social media. On December 12, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI (Pope Francis’ predecessor) became the first Pope to create a Twitter account. His newest commandment for Priests that were trying to get their messages across at the time was to “Go Forth and Blog” [1] In fact 9 official twitter accounts were made so that the Pope’s followers could get his tweets in different languages. One can now read the Pope’s tweets in English, Spanish, Italian, French, Arabic, German, Polish, Portuguese, and Latin, and between all 9 handles, the Pope in 2015 currently has 18.659 million followers. The estimated figure for Roman Catholics in the World is 1.2 billion and while all of the world’s Catholics may not be following Pope Francis on Twitter, the Pope can pride himself in the fact that he currently has more followers than artist Kanye West. But hey, “Na-na-na that that don’t kill us, Can only make us stronger”, right Kanye?

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While some Church officials still remain weary of using technology due to it’s tendency to “trivialize sex and promote violence”[2], the Church has certainly seen a rise in the number of youths they are reaching as a result of using social media. In Fact, Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told a gather of journalists that, “In our church we are always fishing inside the aquarium…And we forget that most fish are outside the aquarium.” If the Church were to abstain from using social media, it would run the risk of merely talking to itself, which is why the Pope’s use of social media has allowed the church to reach a wider audience—especially that of the youth.

With this past year’s World Youth Day that took place in Rio de Janiero, Pope Francis offered a reward to people who followed the catholic youth event on Twitter and other social media platforms. Now these are not the same indulgences that were sold in the Renaissance period as a get-out-of-jail-free cards, these indulgences can only be given to those with sincere faiths. The Pope is really trying hard to increase youth involvement in the Church through his use of social media, and strictly based on followers, he appears to be doing just that.

For an institution that has historically been criticized for being behind the social curve, the Pope has certainly made significant strides in bringing the Church into a new era. In fact, Vatican Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi claims that the first twitter user was in fact Jesus. He says that the 140-character limit of tweets are indicative of the short, meaningful messages Jesus imparted to his followers in the Bible. Now whether or not this is true is beside the point, the Church is certainly heading in the right direction with its use of Twitter.


In addition to twitter, the Vatican has also created an Instagram page so that followers can stay updated on the travels of the Pope and all things Catholic. With 20.6k followers, it still has a long way to go, but it is a step in the right direction for the Church.

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While the Pope may not be speaking through a burning bush, he is certainly setting the world aflame with social media!



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  1. wallacekwan99 · ·

    Good Post. I feel that the Catholic Church’s social media initiative is a step in the right direction. With social media being so prevalent today, it is a vehicle that can effectively enhance the Church’s relationship with all its people, not just the young. Personally, I’ve felt that at the local level, churches (at least the ones that I have associated with) have done a very good job leveraging Social Media to drive home its messages, and facilitate operations, however, it is only now being overtly driven at the highest levels, while at the same time gaining much press due to the Pope’s “rockstar” status. I have seen samples of the Church’s social media inspired ads, and I find them clever, and humorous, however there are a few “Old School” Catholics that find them in poor taste. Interesting to say the least.

  2. I also think that the Catholic Church is on the right way to reach a broader base. I just had a look at the Pope’s Twitter page. I could not really tell what my expections were in advance, but somehow I had the feeling that they have been met. On the page you find Tweets that are intended to lift the readers spirit, but what confused me a little bit was the fact that there were hardly any references to current events. There were appeals to pray for the people of Sri Lanka and the Philipinnes when Pope Francis visited the respective countries – alright. I was some kind of disappointed that after the shooting in Paris, the reaction was just: “#PrayersForParis”. That’s it. No prayer for peace and respect between the religions or something.
    Basically I like the idea of the Pope (or the responsible people) using Twitter and the like for communicating with the believers. I think it would be even more successful if there were also tweets from followers (you only see what the Vatican writes) – maybe questions to the followers would help to overcome the “fear” some may have to “talk” to the Pope. I am of the opinion that it would also help to enhance the up-to-dateness of the tweets (reacting to major world events, etc.). Maybe the Vatican’s social media strategy is not fully developed yet.

  3. Great Post! As a non catholic and a graduate of a catholic high school I have in the past been critical of the catholic church and their lack of adapting to the current culture. I don’t follow the happenings of the catholic church that much but I do enjoy this Pope. I think he is smart for turning to social media to connect with young people. The amount of followers that the Pope has acquired on Twitter proves that it was the right decision because it is a platform that many catholics use.

  4. It’s awesome that you brought up this topic. I have loved seeing Pope Francis on Twitter. His accepting spirit has resonated with so many people, and his Twitter account only supplements this. I actually didn’t see tweets under Pope Benedit XVI, but I’m glad to hear he supported this initiative. It’s sad but true that especially younger generations struggle to make time for going to church. Therefore, meeting on Twitter is so innovative. @johannaweiss, I also love your point about using Twitter to have a deeper connection by being able to “talk” with the Pope.

  5. Yet another reason I’m loving Pope Francis! Definitely a clever and interesting post, Chris. I agree with many of the posts above that expanding the social media movement to Catholicism is a smart move by the Church. The Church’s future rests on the ability to recruit young followers. As a Catholic I have seen many of my peers fall away from religion mainly because their parents have. Whether that be due to church scandals or other reasons, there is a need to reconnect today’s youth and what better way than through a platform they already understand so well! With the use of twitter young people can make their own opinions about their faith, separate from their parents and older generations of Catholics.

  6. Great post, Chris! I had no idea that the Pope has such a massive following on Twitter. This is absolutely a step in the right direction for the Church and Pope Francis’s desire to reach out to young Catholics. The Catholic Church is an institution, and very similar to businesses, it also needs to keep up with current trends of the day to reach its audience. With the help of social media, Catholics around the world can now unite in a quicker, more efficient way. I have a feeling that this will help young people feel more connected to their religion, now that the Pope is transforming the image of the Catholic Church into something more progressive than ever before. It amazes me how powerful social media has become- that even the Pope is using it! It will be interesting to see how his effort makes an impact in the future.

  7. meganvtom · ·

    I loved reading about this topic because I really didn’t know much about the Pope’s use of Twitter and social media in general. I find it interesting that the Pope is able to reach followers all over the globe and also of all different demographics. When you pointed out the fact that the Twitter was able to reach a younger audience and increase youth involvement, it got me thinking about the possibilities that may just be beginning. It brought me back to our first class in which we spoke of social media’s evolution from sharing to eventually collective action, which I believe could be in the future.

  8. Nice post. I agree with you that this was the right move for the Catholic Church, especially when you consider the audience they are reaching through social media. Just like a seemingly stuffy brand can use social media to become more relatable to its consumers, so can the Pope and the Catholic Church!

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