The Pope on Social Media: Reactions from the Public

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On 8/29/13, Pope Francis posed with a group of young people at the Vatican and the photo was subsequently posted onto twitter. The story was picked up and re-posted by innumerable online news services, and much feedback from the general public was offered in the form of comments.

The full story is summarized here:

The informal picture was taken on a smartphone belonging to one of the teenagers, with the camera held at arm’s length. It was then posted on social media. Around 500 teenagers had travelled from the Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio, 50 miles south of Milan, and shared a private audience with the pontiff.

The Pope told the young crowd he wanted to meet with them “for selfish reasons … because you have in your heart a promise of hope. You are bearers of hope. You, in fact, live in the present, but are looking at the future. You are the protagonists of the future, artisans of the future. Make the future with beauty, with goodness and truth. Have courage. Go forward. Make noise,” he told the students.

Before the photograph was taken, the teens presented the pope with the gift of a wooden-framed illustration of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. Since the Pope was selected in March, he has made clear his intention to connect with young people, and to move the Papacy into a more modern, informal age. He has pledged to return the Catholic Church to its humble roots, and has shunned the lavish trappings of the papacy in favor of a simple existence.

When I reviewed comments to this story, I was amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response. While there was some dispute as to whether or not the photo was truly a “selfie” (it was not taken by the pope himself, and was not posted to his twitter account), most comments were thoughtful and authentic. I have verified that the comments shown below were made by real people, not comments falsely planted by an organization. No alterations have been made to these postings:

I am not Catholic, but I am impressed by this pope. He appears to be an authentic man who leads with his heart. He represents the shift in spiritual consciousness many have been waiting to see…a simple, authentic demonstration of faith that is not at war with the culture. – 9/1/13

I’m not Catholic, I’m not Christian, I’m not any religion. I’m an atheist and I really like this guy. He’s real. He connects with people. – 8/31/13

Incredible that an aged man has foud the wisom of Jesus… look at the world through the eyes of child…We now have a POPE..Thank you Lord. – 8/31/13

Satans worst fears have come to pass, he is a(popepletic) (sic), grinding his teeth because Francis is bringing the multitudes back to God with his common touch and gentle smile, but the evil doesn’t want this, hence the negative comments and hatred here, and elsewhere, trying to stop the turnaround to the good, to God. And the good news is, that the good shall prevail, brothers and sisters. God bless Pope Francis in his work, the work of God. – 8/31/13

I only have one word to describe the pope awsome. The church has needed this type of leadership for decades. – 8/31/13

This is real news. The leader of one of the largest churches in the world bring people back to the flock through love and respect. Through the real teachings of Christ, not through the fear of damnation. Catholics around the world are overjoyed by this and should be. Pope Francis appears to be a real mensch. – 9/1/13

I really like this man.. I am not even Christian but he is cool and shows how a true Christian should be.. yeah there is problems in the catholic church.. but I think what this pope is showing is a new face to the church and to Christian in general. I would like to meet this man, just to tell him that I think he is cool .. – 8/31/13

Wow a pope who actually seems to practice what he preaches. I am not at all religious but I think Christ would be happy with this one.  Always wondered why the church for a guy who’s entire possessions were a robe and sandals needed all the gold and fancy adornment. As a force for the poor this pope might actually accomplish something great. Nice to see. – 8/31/13

This is the greatest Pope ever. I am NOT a catholic and of course think that many of their priests have been guilty of horrible crimes that were covered up by other Popes. But Pope Francis seems, finally, to be going back to Christ’s original teachings about love, caring, compassion and no judgment. Let’s give him a big round of applause! – 8/31/13

Discussion: Is This Appropriate Behavior for the Pope?

So, is it appropriate for the Pope to pose for candid photographs to be posted on social media? Is this disrespectful to the church? Would Jesus pose for a “selfie”?

Actually, I believe that not only was this appropriate, but that is was divinely orchestrated and planned – NotAccidental. I do not believe that this photo op was staged or contrived by church officials, but that it was spontaneous and authentic. Yes, the Pope has stated that he wants to move the church into a more modern age and to connect with young people. I think that this photograph indicates the authenticity of his desire to reach out to young people.

Would Jesus have posed for a “selfie”? Remember the passage from Matthew, Mark, and Luke when people brought little children to Jesus:

“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.””Matthew 19:13-14

The disciples rebuked the people from bringing children to Jesus, but Jesus quickly corrected them – the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these! Jesus reached out to all people: men, women, children, slaves, free, and of all races. As stated in some of the comments posted above, the church has often become centered on itself, glorifying itself rather than God. Instead, the church should humble itself and serve:

“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Matthew 20:28

Indeed, it appears that Pope Francis wants to serve, to connect with and reach all people, and to become a model for the church to follow. The church here is defined as all those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, not just Catholics or Protestants.

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