I admit, when I first started reading about making this past week a “virtual pilgrimage” with Pope Benedict XVI while he was at World Youth Day, I scoffed. I was a “left behind Catholic”. While the cool kids were sipping sangria and eating tapas, I was meeting students at Starbucks and finalizing the fall schedule. So when @madrid11_en, @BustedHalo , #CindyWithB16 and @CatholicNewsSvc, @JackieFrancois and the whole bunch from @LifeTeen invited me to “follow them to Spain” I’m not going to lie, my reaction was less than Christian.
My tweets reflected as I schlepped through my Monday, stateside, saying things like, “going to Mass. Just like all of you in Madrid. #youarenotthatspecial”. I don’t have EWTN and wasn’t watching the videos that were being uploaded, but as the week progressed, the candid 140 character updates of both friends and strangers made me start pray about, wonder and appreciate what Team Catholic in Madrid was up to.
At the risk of over-sentimentalizing a profound reality of our faith, we are the Body of Christ and despite my best efforts to ignore the graces overflowing from Madrid out of jealousy that I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand, I found the updates from the pilgrims about their encounters with each other, the Holy Father and, ultimately Christ to be quite moving. By Friday, when #ViaCrucis was a world-wide trending topic, I was hooked and proud to know that my brothers and sisters in Christ—most of whom I would not meet until heaven—were, for a few moments, reminding the world what was really important.
Social Media has been blamed for a lot of problems—compromising people’s privacy, a skyrocketing in bullying, a shallowness in relationships based on 140 character spurts in communication—but this past week I begrudgingly admit that I was grateful for those who made my unexpected “virtual pilgrimage” possible, tweeting pictures, stories and quotes from Madrid. This morning I was genuinely saddened to read all the “adios, Madrid” and “Gracias, B16” in my newsfeed, feeling that although I wasn’t drenched from the rain on Saturday or waking up for mass in a field this morning, social media had given a new dimension to World Youth Day and allowed me to be a prayerful observer across the Atlantic. As if 1.5 million youth gathering to celebrate being Catholic wasn’t powerful enough, social media allowed so many more to follow and be inspired by their individual experiences.
I’m sure the apostles had no idea that Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” would include a digital component in 2011, but I this week, I think social media—especially Twitter—gave us a deeper appreciation for our Catholic—Universal—Church.