Social-Media Pilgrims at World Youth Day

Catholics can participate via Facebook, Twitter, apps, as well as broadcasting, livestreaming and blogging by media outlets, including EWTN and the Register.

WASHINGTON — For millions of Catholics around the globe, the road to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro isn’t by plane, train or bus, but by new methods: Facebook, Twitter and apps.

Catholics are taking advantage of the opportunity to follow Pope Francis to Rio as “social pilgrims,” using a variety of new and social-media platforms to engage in the World Youth Day experience.

Already, 2.6 million English Twitter users and 2.8 million Spanish Twitter users follow Pope Francis (who tweets under the handle @Pontifex), whose daily “tweets” (140-character messages) have been described as a “lectio divina for Catholics” on which to meditate for the day.

Pope Francis has encouraged the idea of the social pilgrim. The Holy Father announced that Catholics who can’t be physically present with the Pope at World Youth Day in Rio can receive the same indulgence as the Rio pilgrims by taking up the same pilgrim spirit and following prayerfully the spiritual events through social media, as well as television and radio.

“Social media is allowing a lot more people from the United States to be involved than in years past,” said Paul Jarzembowski, program coordinator for Youth and Young Adult Ministry at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

In previous years, Catholic youth and young adults who could not afford to go to World Youth Day or did not have the ability or incentive to travel would have to wait until other pilgrims returned to their home parishes to partake in the experience, explained Jarzembowski.

World Youth Day organizers are preparing for 2.5 million participants. This year, more than 9,000 Americans have registered for World Youth Day, considerably fewer than the 29,000 that registered for 2011 WYD in Madrid, although final numbers will not be known until they arrive.

“But now, the people who are staying back can have a similar networked experience with those pilgrims and journey alongside them,” he said. “I think [social media] has really broadened the whole notion of what the World Youth Day pilgrimage is all about.”

Jarzembowski said that many dioceses are sending their own youth reporters, who will be tweeting and reporting back their experiences home, and many bishops will be tweeting, too.


Variety of Tools

Catholics at home will have a variety of tools to keep them intimately connected with the World Youth Day pilgrim experience — even in real time. For Catholics in North America, Rio de Janeiro is one hour ahead of U.S. Eastern Daylight Time.

Social pilgrims can access the official WYD app at the iTunes store. They can also access the Follow the Cross WYD app and follow WYD through an app from Xt3, a Catholic social-media platform. Canadian Catholic television station Salt & Light also will carry a live-stream feed that can be accessed by computer, tablet or smartphone, as will the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA.

All events can be seen live on Eternal Word Television Network. EWTN will also be streaming events live online. The Register will also be in Rio, so follow along at and on social media.

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications has also teamed up with Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera ( to produce The Rio Daily at, including daily videos of young pilgrims, photographs and testimonies that will also be publicized through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The theme of World Youth Day is “Go, Make Disciples of All Nations,” and Catholic dioceses and archdioceses have taken to Facebook and Twitter to help get youth and young adults engaged in the World Youth Day experience.

“We had a top 10 list on our Facebook page of reasons to come to WYD Chicago,” said Clarissa Aljentera, social-media coordinator in the Chicago Archdiocese’s Catechesis and Youth Ministry Office. The archdiocese is hosting a regional WYD celebration in Chicago that will bring together 1,500 high-school age youth, complete with workshops and keynote addresses. She said they’ve raised awareness through Facebook and created a YouTube video that people can share to spread the word.

At least 18 dioceses and archdioceses are promoting their own WYD events to complement the celebrations in Rio. The Washington Archdiocese says social media is playing a big role for young adults participating in their regional WYD experience.

Throughout its Twitter, Facebook and young-adult-focused website, the archdiocese will be promoting the saint of the day, highlights from WYD, as well as live feeds of the events and links to the catechetical sessions and the evening vigil Mass, among other things.

Years ago, Christ’s mission to “go out and make disciples” meant traveling by foot to get the Gospel message out to other communities, said Sarah Yaklic, the Archdiocese of Washington’s digital-media director. “Now it means us being present on social media.”

Sharing is key to social media, and Yaklic said that Rio pilgrims on social media should tweet, retweet and share quotes and reflections on Facebook or their blogs. Yaklic recommended following the official World Youth Day Twitter (@WYD_en) and putting hashtags #Rio2013, #WYD, or #JMJ (stands for Jornada Mundial da la Juventud) to make the message more easily shared.

Said Yaklic, “It’s important not only to retweet and share, but also to respond to questions.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims during his Angelus address August 30, 2020.

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