It's been said that the selection process for deciding the next Pope is cloaked in smoke and mirrors - before the actual white smoke rises. Like a literal interpretation of a Greek Tragedy's 'Deus ex Machina' - a seemingly difficult challenge is overcome by the intervention of God - where divine inspiration finally saves the day. Which poses an interesting question, might the All Mighty think the time is right for a more aggressive Social Media Pope?
Archbishop CelliWell, the jury is out on this one. Vatican officials can be dismissive of social media engagement. Some Vatican observers see Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli who is president of the church’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications as being relegated to an uninfluential communications department because of the current administration’s disregard for the diplomatic corps and its disinterest in social media.
Nonetheless, Celli has made the most of his time in the job, building a small, international group of church news aggregators that have kept a universe of Catholic bloggers, YouTube and social media increasingly well fed. The question is will the next Pope take the reigns and being an even more dominant player in the world of social media?
For instance, would he have agreed with the Vatican's recent position to remove Pope Benedict XVI's tweets in an "ex-communication" move of sorts. That's right -- on February 28th in the Year of Our Lord 2013, the Vatican (perhaps due to divine intervention once again) has deleted all of the outgoing Pope's tweets from the @Pontiflex account.
Benedict XVI was the first Pope to use Twitter to communicate "the word" to his flock, which today numbers 2.2 billion Christians ( 1.2 billion of whom are Roman Catholics). However only 1.6 million are actually following him on Twitter. As the first "Pope Emeritus" (a title created just for him), the retiring Pope's final tweet read as such:
The Twitter account’s moniker is now titled “Sede Vacante,” which is the name of the time period when the papacy is vacant. But for those interested in what his previous tweets were all about, the Vatican's website has established an archive of them.
However, if you were a Twitter follower who had retweeted the Pope Emeritus in the past, the hand of God has decided to remove all those tweets from your timeline. Odd? it's almost like your Papal Blessing was rescinded? What if the 12 apostles had decided to make that same move after Christ's death? Think about it? There may never have been a Vatican to begin with?
In any event, I digress. A Social Media Pope is definitely within the cards (pun intended), and there is a handful of social media-savvy cardinals who may be contentders, based on their recent activity. Some actually tweeted up until the very last moment before the cardinal-electors began the conclave.
Cardinal RavasiCardinal Ravasi (aka @CardRavasi), the former president of the Pontifical Council for Culture bade his many followers farewell the same day, the Sede Vacante began: "Thanks to all my followers for sharing this journey. I'll take my leave from you now for a few days. ... In friendship," tweeted Ravasi.
The more promotionally-oriented Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York (@CardinalDolan) has been posting links to some of the interviews he has been conducting, such as those with NBC News' Today show and CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston (@CardinalSean), has been posting how his days have been spent in Rome in Cardinal O'Malleythe run-up to the conclave and shared what he told retired Pope Benedict XVI when he met with him Feb. 28: "Today I shared w/Pope Benedict a Bavarian greeting & also that the people of Boston thanked him for his ministry & are praying for him."
Cardinal TurksonBut in the addition to becoming a more aggressive Social Media Pope, might the next Prince of the Church also be the first Black Pope since the Middle Ages? Will the conclave have their own "Obama Moment" to show the world they have entered the 21st Century and can embrace change. This would be a very progressive move on the Church's part and might overcome the negative perceptions that's dogged the instituion for years, namely, their draconian beliefs and sex abuse scandals.
If this be case, one of the odds-on favorite would have to be the election of Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson (@TurksonCardinal). He would be the first African since Pope Gelasius I over fifteen hundred years ago. This man has a compelling backstory, some might even relate to Jesus Christ. Born into a poor family, the son of a carpenter, Turkson is a natural communicator with an informal style, doing television interviews in his black priestly garb rather than the scarlet cassock of a cardinal. He is young (for a cardinal) and technology-friendly, reportedly owning an iPod and iPad.
His last tweet on March 2nd was actually one of the last tweets heard from any Cardinal before the conclave began - which might bode in his favor.
While the Vatican, I'm sure would not condone wagering on the next Social Media Pope, or Black Pope for that matter, the online "bookmaker" Paddy Power says the smart money is on the Cardinal from Ghana. In fact, he comes in at 5/2 - the highest odds over the entire group of 115 cardinals.
So, who will you be betting on in the next couple of weeks to fill the 'Shoes of the Fisherman?' When a puff of white smoke comes out of the Sistine Chapel chimney, will the world learn that a Black Pope might just be the best of the bunch to spread 'the word' via social media channels? Your blessed thoughts, readers?