Vatican plans social media celebration of popes’ sainthood

Website, app and Facebook page being set up for canonisation of John XXIII and John Paul II

The last time a Roman Catholic pontiff was made a saint, television news was in its infancy and the coverage from St Peter’s Square was resolutely black, white and grainy.

Sixty years on from the canonisation of Pope Pius X, two of his successors are to follow in his footsteps – and the church is keen to show that, in the sphere of communications at least, it has changed with the times.

People around the world wanting to follow the twin canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27th will be able to do so via a multi-faceted "digital platform", said Monsignor Walter Insero yesterday.

As well as a website – which is still under construction and will be available in five languages – there will be a Twitter handle (@2popesaints), smartphone app, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Insero said other social media sites including Instagram and Storify would also be used to communicate the event to young people effectively.

Insero said the importance of media coverage had been illustrated in 2011 when a Costa Rican woman, Floribeth Mora Diaz, watched the beatification of John Paul II on television. Mora, who had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, went on to recover and the church declared her case to be the second miracle attributed to the Polish pope, who died in 2005. The first concerned Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a French nun who staged an astonishing recovery from a 2001 diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

The Vatican is not putting a figure on the number of people it expects to come to Rome for the twin canonisation, but estimates from city officials have reached into the millions.

The Vatican announced yesterday that churches in the centre of the Italian capital would stay open the night before the ceremony for a prayer vigil. However, perhaps in a sign of the current pope’s influence, it stressed that the nature of the event was spiritual not extravagant, and that costly side events would be avoided.

“It is essentially a spiritual message because it is a celebration of sainthood,” said Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of Rome. “The thread that ties these two pontificates is faith.”

In Bergamo, the northern Italian province where John XXIII was born, the church will mark the canonisations with a charity drive. Monsignor Giulio Dellavite said priests would be invited to donate a month’s wages to a fund for struggling families.

In Rome, meanwhile, the signs are that local hotel owners are looking on the canonisations more as an opportunity to make money rather than to give it up. The travel website Trivago said last week that the price of an average hotel room for the night of April 26th was up 63 per cent on last year. – (Guardian service)