Twitter: Gives Back to Social Media Pope

September 22,2015

He is the most followed world leader on Twitter and for his first visit to Washington, Pope Francis is getting a very special gift, thanks to social media.

Twitter brought volunteers together to welcome the pope.

United by a hashtag, Catholics in the U.S. capital are carrying out a pledge to "Walk with Francis."

Volunteers with Catholic Charities distribute food in Washington. (K. Gypson/VOA)

The Archdiocese of Washington started the hashtag for the papal visit.

Sarah Yaklic helped create the online pledge so that people could follow the Pope’s example and invite others on social media to join in.

“They are transforming the city, so the ways they are serving, maybe they are trying new methods of prayer or new advocacy methods or doing something kind for their neighbor, and they are bringing that story to life on social media," she explained.

At 78 years old, the pope is an unlikely figure for social media inspiration. He does not own a computer or watch TV, but he tweets in nine different languages.

Local Catholic Laura Roland was inspired by the pope’s example to go on social media.

“The Twittersphere has blown up with all things Francis," she said.

Roland had walked by a statue of Jesus as a homeless person outside Catholic Charities in Washington many times, and it made her think more deeply about the pope’s call.

“When I heard about the Walk with Francis pledge, I thought,'You know he is really calling me to practice what I say I profess'," she explained.

But the #WalkWithFrancis" hashtag is just part of the papal reach online.

“His readers are much more engaged, so they retweet his tweets, and the Vatican estimates that their tweets could reach as many as 200 million followers, so it is a huge platform, certainly much bigger than any pope has had before," O'Loughlin said.

When Pope Francis arrives at Catholic Charities to bless the meals, he will receive a collection of Facebook and Instagram posts, YouTube videos and Tweets recording the acts of service and prayer in the months leading up to his visit.

“I hope that is what he takes away from his visit here in America, in the United States, that we are listening and really feel compelled," Roland said.

It is the perfect gift for the person whose Twitter handle (@pontifex) means "bridge-builder."