Pope goes digital to better connect with youth

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd gathered in Saint Peter's square before his Regina Coeli prayers at the Vatican May 4, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict will text message thousands of young Catholics on their mobile phones during World Youth Day in Sydney in July, hoping going digital will help him connect better with a younger audience.

The Pope will text daily messages of inspiration and hope during the six-day Sydney event while digital prayer walls will be erected at event sites and the church will set up a Catholic social networking Web site akin to a Catholic Facebook.

The Catholic Church said it decided to use technology to connect to the estimated 225,000 young Catholics expected to attend the World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations that start on July 15.

“We wanted to make WYD08 a unique experience by using new ways to connect with today’s tech-savvy youth,” Bishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement on Wednesday.

Australian telecoms firm Telstra will provide voice, data, mobile, broadband and broadcast services for the event, as well as erect digital prayer walls at event sites.

Telstra said it plans to connect 8,000 volunteers, 2,000 clergy, 3,000 media and an anticipated 225,000 pilgrims to more than 700 locations around Sydney.

Australia’s Catholic nuns are already praying for good weather for the Pope’s visit.

The Catholic church is the biggest in Australia with about 5 million members, compared to about 4 million Anglicans among the nation’s 21 million people.

Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith