By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 17, 2015
ATLANTA—An Atlanta woman with her digital media savvy wants to put you in the crowds to feel the excitement and the buzz, the prayer and the encouragement of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.
Rosemary Jean-Louis aims to share the energy and spirituality of two days of the pope’s U.S. visit, relying on her smartphone and tablet. She’s going to Philadelphia to be part of a small army of folks—with the hashtag #PopeinPhilly—using social media to share Pope Francis’ trip with the world.
“This is an iconic pope. This is a pope who is down to earth,” said Jean-Louis. “I wanted to be part of it and be part of his team.”
Jean-Louis had already turned in her credit card points to claim an Amtrak ticket to Philadelphia, but she wanted to do more than just attend the World Meeting of Families. She scrolled down the website for volunteer possibilities and found she could serve as a “digital diplomat.”
“That totally fit who I am because that’s already what I do for a living,” said Jean-Louis, over a lunch of a turkey burger, salad and fries in a Cabbagetown cafe.
She works with social media for Georgia Public Broadcasting, where she also manages a blog focused on “Downton Abbey.” She is also parish webmaster at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta. She worships there and also with her mother at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur.
The pope’s first visit to the United States, which will take him from Washington, D.C., to New York City and then Philadelphia, will be blanketed by media coverage from both religious and commercial stations. A cable TV station in New York is dedicating a channel to 24-hour coverage of the visit. About 17,000 people are registered to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the gathering that initially invited Pope Francis, prompting his U.S. trip. The crowds in Philadelphia are expected to swell to close to a million when Pope Francis visits on the last two days of the conference, celebrating an outdoor Mass.
Social networks to share message of Pope Francis
Organizers of the World Meeting of Families are counting on the digital diplomats to share messages with those who cannot come to Philadelphia. They’ll have many vantage points: the point of view of the crowds, talks at the conference, and the view from out on the streets.
Nancy Caramanico, digital content manager for the World Meeting of Families, said digital tools serve as a megaphone to broadcast the church’s message.
“People say that Pope Francis is the people’s pope. Through the social media we are able to get out his message and the wonderful message of the World Meeting of Families. One of the wonderful things about social media is everyone has access to it. Anyone can share that and get to hear about this wonderful story,” she said in a phone interview.
Some 10,000 volunteers are helping to make the World Meeting of Families run smoothly, with about 400 serving as digital diplomats. They’ll be relying on a variety of social networks, Twitter for updates, Instagram for photos, and streaming video.
The change in technology since the papal visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, along with the fascination over the first pope from Latin America, makes this experience unprecedented; social media has been embraced by millions, and over 60 percent of Americans own smartphones. Pope Francis has more than 7 million followers on his English Twitter page.
Jean-Louis said Pope Francis comes across as a “total regular guy.” She recalled one of his first acts after being elected pope was paying a hotel bill. “You knew a new type of pope is in town,” she said.
Power of digital media evident when Pope Benedict came
This is the second time Jean-Louis, a native of Brooklyn, New York, has attended a papal event. She traveled in 2008 to be part of the throngs that worshiped at Mass with Pope Benedict in New York’s Yankee Stadium. The streets were crowded with Catholics and non-Catholics eager to see the pope, she said.
“It was pretty astounding, actually. I grew up in New York. I don’t remember seeing so many people in the streets of New York City so excited about one guy, teeming with just so many people. Looking around every corner you saw a priest or a nun, or people carrying pope merchandise or something like that,” she said.
“What was also astounding was to see the non-Catholic people kind of get in on it. They seemed genuinely curious and interested to see what this was all about and to see why all these Catholic folks were gathered all together. It was just a lot of excitement in the air. It was just a beautiful thing to see. There were so many people from all walks of life and different cultures.”
Once back from her trip, she weaved her photos into a story and shared it online. She heard from people who told her the story made it feel like they had attended the event. That feedback confirmed for her the power of digital tools to draw people into an event, she said. Now her goal is to communicate the experience in Philadelphia.
“In addition to sharing the experience with folks back at home through social media, it is also to connect with other Catholics throughout the social media sphere. To also remind people that Catholicism is a universal church that is diverse, people from all walks … of life, and that we have different styles, different liturgies. … That’s the cool thing about being Catholic.”