Television screens and radios weren’t guaranteed to be the first to tell the Catholic world it had a new pope March 13. The second conclave in the third millennium was the first that social media played a large role.
So much so that a seagull who came to rest on the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel prior to the puff of white smoke March 13 temporarily had two Twitter accounts to its name, but not before @ConclaveSeagull tweeted “That’s a lot of votes for Cardinal what’s his name…” Ultimately, the @SistineSeagull account endured although it’s now racing @ConclaveChimney to get the most followers.
The seagull’s microblogging account accrued 500 followers every eight minutes in its infancy. Social media users, including at least two Phoenix-area priests, followed the bird’s high-tech Tweets such as “It once took three years to select a pope. I’m prepared to build a nest if need be.”
Fr. John Muir, associate director for both the All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe and the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy, was in St. Peter’s Square during the conclave. He quipped via Twitter, “Apparently, the Holy Spirit can also descend in the form of a seagull.”
The infamous bird, who left before the smoke came, now has 9,000 followers on its Twitter account. Conclave watchers took to Facebook to discuss the seagull as well. John Triscik, whose profile says he lives in Hershey Penns., responded to an AmericanPapist Facebook post requesting captions for the seagull.
He wrote, “Will the smoke match my chest or my tail”?
His Facebook feed shows Triscik was also among the more than 552,000 worldwide who pledged through adoptacardinal.org to pray for one of the 115 voting members of the conclave. Once elected, unofficial Facebook pages with Pope Francis’ profile popped up and people started following his feeds as a chef — the simple servant cooks his own meals — as a public figure, government official and monarch.
There are also community pages. Some identify him as “Francis I.” Others don’t. All of them still have awhile to go, however, to catch Pope [emeritus] Benedict XVI’s public figure page. Some 94,000 people hit “like” on that page.
Fr. Hans Ruygt, pastor of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Surprise, enjoys using social media. He found some clear “likes” and “dislikes” when it came to apps for his iPhone for pre-conclave and conclave news.
The Conclave App wasn’t user-friendly, he wrote to The Catholic Sun in an email. It lacked search features such as alphabetizing cardinal names or clearly displaying their last names. Users had to “eyeball” the list as would users of traditional media, he wrote.
The app didn’t support a widescreen view when turned sideways, either so he couldn’t see the last names of cardinals. Any step would have aided his discovery of the new pope’s name.
“I found the Pope app to be more useful and interesting and I used the notifications option on it to alert me,” Fr. Ruygt wrote. He plans to continue using it.
Still, for all the immediacy social media offers, many tuned in to a television feed or a main network’s live stream online for the announcement. Fr. Ruygt said FOX News and similar secular sites loaded faster on his office computer than live streams from Catholic media. Some 55,000 people were watching the Vatican’s live web feed when the Catholic world learned it had a pope.
Fr. Muir also uses social media. The actual announcement of “Habemus Papam” for him, however, was face-to-face.
Fr. Muir took his best guess on when the conclave would start, found decent airfare and snatched the last room at one hotel close to St. Peter’s Square. He left it to God whether he should be a simple pilgrim or use his voice to “share the emotions on the ground.”
Fr. Muir learned his answer when the head of BBC Europe sat next to him on the plane. Instead of using social media to get the story on the conclave, the priest — who was still in seminary when Pope Benedict XVI was elected — used social media to deliver the story.
“I was trying to be pro-active and positively putting things out there,” Fr. Muir told The Catholic Sun.
“When the smoke first came out, it looked a little black,” Fr. Muir said in one video post, while donning his self-described “Pope Bergoglio” glasses. “And I have to tell you, I just felt this real deep disappointment that I was going home [the next day] with apparently no pope and then it just turned to this beautiful bright white and it was a complete reversal of emotions and the place went crazy.”
Fr. Muir estimated granting seven media interviews the day Pope Francis was elected and up to a dozen during his week-long journey.
“It was dramatic and spiritual on every level,” he said, describing the feeling as that of winning the Super Bowl and being a foster child getting a new Dad.
Media reports and spoofs on the new pope may have just begun. Pictures of him using public transportation and paying his hotel bill went viral. Google, the Internet search engine giant, temporarily changed its homepage image to “BerGooglio.”
Here is a video recap of the conclave. It’s produced by Catholic Sun friend, CatholicVote.org