Lenten technology grasps younger generation

By Tiffany Blanchette

Vatican council incorporates social media, spreads gospel

Keeping Lenten promises can be a challenge for college students with busy schedules. The Vatican and modern technology, however, have teamed up for this year’s observation of Lent, prompting more Catholics to stay observant.

A council within the Vatican called the Pontifical Council for Social Communications works to use various forms of media to spread the gospel and motivation to modern society.


The council is using a YouTube account, an iPhone application, a Facebook page and a Twitter account to reach its worldwide flock. The Facebook page and Twitter account were launched by the Vatican in 2009.

The Vatican’s efforts toward technology is the right move, said Kemal Akkaya, a board of directors member at the Gaia House Interfaith Center, adviser for the Intercultural Student Dialogue Association and associate professor of computer science.

“The easiest, quickest and most effective way of catching the attention of young people is through the social media,” Akkaya said.

The Twitter account, @Pope2YouVatican, which was exploited on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Feb. 27, was originally activated as tribute to Pope John Paul II but lay dormant from May until late December 2010.  The account resumed updating just before Ash Wednesday of this year with daily Lenten messages translated into five languages.

With the season of Lent in observance, the daily tweets offer quotes from scripture as well as the pope’s own words of motivation, complete with a Lent hashtag.

On the day before Ash Wednesday, a tweet from Pope Benedict XVI’s account invited everyone to celebrate the season of Lent with him, and added that daily messages from the Bible would be shared through Twitter.

Emily Hitchens, campus minister of Newman Catholic Center, said it’s a benefit to students if technology can help integrate faith with their busy lives.


She said because people are so connected through technology on a daily basis, it has become a main part of their lives, and it can be a great tool.

“For students, if something regarding their faith can be incorporated with something they look at and use everyday, it will help keep their faith on the forefront of their minds,” Hitchens said.

She said whether students use an application on their phones, join a group on Facebook or follow an account on Twitter, regular updates help keep the reminders coming, especially during Lent.

The hardest part about Lent is that many people accidentally forget about their goals, Tim Taylor, director of Newman Catholic Center said.

Technology-related reminders can help encourage students to maintain their goals and prompt them in personal prayer with lists of the daily psalms, Taylor said.

He said the most difficult thing about being a college student from a spiritual point of view is that a student’s schedule is so erratic, which can make it difficult to build any consistent habits.

Faith-related technology can encourage motivation, especially in college, Sarah Lambert, a senior from Huntley studying nursing, said.

“College students might not be surrounded by people practicing the same beliefs,” she said. “Social media like Twitter and Facebook are ways of outsourcing for motivation.”

Akkaya said this type of technology use could be beneficial for many other faith organizations that have difficulty reaching young people through traditional communication means.

For example, he said, the same efforts have recently been taken by the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs, the official institution that provides services for Muslims in Turkey.

Akkaya said social networking tools do have pros and cons.

“Students could waste their time easily,” he said. “But there are also opportunities where they could use this (technology) effectively for the good of themselves and their community.”