Pope Francis is the first pope to make a real, concerted effort on social media, with a clear direction and brand. On Sunday the Pope held an intimate meeting with YouTube stars, throwing his support behind popular beauty videos and encouraging his celebrity guests to help young people create virtual identities.
The YouTube personalities were invited to the Vatican from six continents and included Hayla Ghazal, whose comedy clips from Dubai are aimed at changing attitudes to women in the Middle East, and Dulce Candy, a Mexican-American who crossed the US border illegally as a young child.
The 50-minute meeting addressed a wide range of topics including extremism and identity with the pontiff advising the videomakers to help those of their followers who feel lost.
“You can create a virtual identity; you belong to this circle at least virtually. From that you can start taking a path of optimism and hope,” he said.
Migration was a common theme of the audience, with the pope saying he would never forget the wire fence he saw dividing the US and Mexico during a visit to the border in September.
The pope concluded the meeting by thanking the participants for “giving me some of your youth as a gift”. The meeting is part of a larger social media strategy by the Vatican. In March the papal Instagram account was launched – under the Latin name “franciscus” – garnering 2.5 million followers of images and videos of the pope. After opening up to Instagram Pope Francis met the company’s chief executive, Kevin Systrom, who described the moment as one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
Despite the Vatican’s enthusiasm for social media, the current pope has described himself as a tech dinosaur and warned Catholics against putting their smartphones before real relationships. But he has also promoted the internet as a “gift from God” and a force for good; an approach he will likely take to the church’s World Youth Day in Poland this July.