World Youth Day, Pope Emojis and…Inclusion of Millennials in the Catholic Faith

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Current Events/Politics


I always wanted to attend World Youth Day.

As a practicing Catholic—it gives me joy to see other millennials grow entrenched in the faith as a result of Pope Francis’ commitment to welcoming young people. While World Youth Day has been a staple of the Vatican since 1984, this year’s gathering in Krakow, Poland starting this upcoming week brings a new energy with Pope Francis at its helm.

I’ve watched year after year as pilgrims attended World Youth Day in the past—in Rio, in Madrid and even prior to 2011. I was one of the only young, churchgoing Catholics in my high school class and I regularly felt out there by myself. I loved the concept of partaking on a pilgrimage with other, like-minded young people. And I would have loved the chance as a teenager to live vicariously through other pilgrims.

Enter the Digital Street Team.

During the Pontiff’s visit to the United States last year, the Digital Street Team, led by Aleteia media, took to covering the visit on all forms of social media—echoing support for Pope Francis’ “inclusion of all faiths, non-believers and people who have sinned.” The team was made up of around 60 millennials who entered a social media-based contest with the prize of covering the visit on all social platforms. They plugged the hashtag #GoodIsWinning and even helped to launch Pope Emojis under the slogan “Pope is Hope.”

And they’re not done yet, either—they’re pouring their efforts into promoting World Youth Day with more Pope Emojis and social media. I spoke with Kathleen Hessert of Sports Media Challenge—who gave us a bigger picture of the media campaign and its impact on Catholic and non-Catholic millennials.

“It’s remarkable the reception that Pope Emoji has received around the world,” Hessert said. “Since last September and with the backing of Aleteia, almost 1.3 million Pope Emoji have been sent, racking up 34.1 million impressions.”

We went on to specifically discuss the transfer of the Pope Emoji campaign over to World Youth Day. “With literally millions of young people converging on Krakow for World Youth Day 2016, Aleteia saw a tremendous opportunity to expose pilgrims from every corner of the earth to the experience of sharing a fun new visual language of Catholic Emoji,” Hessert continued.

In addition, Aleteia produced an infographic showing tips and tricks for attending and for covering World Youth Day via social media. For those of you lucky enough to attend, I’m going to directly quote a few (and be forwarned, I’ll be watching you too).

  • Plan ahead and set reminders to capture the sights, sounds and meaning of what’s taking place.
  • Get official [social] accounts on all platforms (hint: Pope Francis is @Pontifex on Twitter).
  • Don’t be afraid to mix up content. Use video and photos.
  • Capture the date, location and significance of your post.
  • Combine Pope Emojis with your smartphone’s Emojis.
  • Hashtags being used: #Krakow2016, #WYD, #USAPilgrim, #ShowKnowMercy, #WYDUSA

Aleteia rounds out its campaign with two more features—a World Youth Day 2016 playlist, available via QR code cards which will be passed out to attending pilgrims and a photo contest, asking for photo entries with the hashtag #KrakowToRome. The goal of the contest is to “capture enthusiasm and hope of young Catholics in Krakow,” and, in keeping with the hashtag, the winner will be awarded a trip to Rome.

Putting my Catholic bias aside, it is exciting to see any public figure so focused on the inclusion of millennials. I know I can’t wait to watch social media for a series of unforgettable moments. If you’re heading to Krakow or have arrived already, we wish you a wonderful pilgrimage—and yes. I’m jealous!

Check out Aleteia’s full infographic here.

If you’d like to download the Pope Emojis, they are available on the App Store and Google Play.

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