When I heard “Breaking News: Pope Benedict is resigning effective February 28,” I was stunned as was most of the world. The Pope made his announcement to a gathering of Vatican Cardinals in Rome on February 11 and it was confirmed by the Vatican Press Office. Because of the time of the announcement, morning newspapers in the U.S. did not have the story, but they quickly posted brief online reports and used their social media networks to inform their readers/followers. TV and radio got the announcement out quickly and their Rome correspondents were putting together stories. But the buzz was on Facebook and Twitter. Immediately, the Pope’s detractors were cheering and his admirers were reflecting on his contributions and legacy. News outlets were tweeting the story as they learned it.
The traditional news media (print and broadcast) will be catching up quickly as they put together reports on the history of this papacy and look forward to the first voluntary papal retirement since 1415 and the Conclave that will elect his successor. Already “short lists” and “long shots” are being mentioned. They will be delving into where he will live in his retirement, what will and can he do, what will he wear, what will we call him?
The immediacy and the democracy of social media were evident in this story. The moment it was announced to the public, it was all over the Internet and social media. Anyone who wanted to make a public comment could do so. This will continue as not only the more than one billion Catholics worldwide, but people of all faiths, denominations, and persuasions watch as the Church selects the next pope. Broadcasters, editors, and reporters as well as bloggers and online commentators will have their say.
Catholic news media, bishops and cardinals, theologians and all believers who already have online platforms (websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts) can be part of the online conversations which have already begun. It is important that believers be online to share our faith and confidence in God. We know that there will be some, perhaps many, people who will misrepresent the meaning of this moment and reduce it to a polarizing political event. They cannot and should not be the only voices heard.
This is the Year of Faith. This time of transition in the Catholic Church is another opportunity to give witness to power of faith, hope and love to unite all people in Christ offline and online.
What are your thoughts?