There are more than 4,000 miles between Philadelphia and Vatican City.
But as the conclave to choose a new pope begins today, Philadelphians can still follow real-time updates from the Vatican, read first-hand accounts from the cardinals making the selection and even “adopt” a cardinal to pray for during the process or make a bracket with their guesses about the next pope.
The selection of Pope Benedict XVI’s successor is the first conclave in the age of social media. When Benedict became pope in 2005, Twitter and Instagram didn’t exist, and Facebook was only open to college students. Now, all three sites and other social networks are abuzz with news about the papal conclave.
Over the past week, some of the cardinals who will choose the next pope have been posting on social media about the experience. (Though once the conclave begins, they're not permitted to use social media). And the sites have been flooded with photos and posts from people visiting Rome.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana wrote Monday: “Heavenly Father, guide our hearts and grant us wisdom and strength tomorrow.”
And here’s how Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa described his experience last week: "We chat, discuss, get to know each other. Meals are special times. We relax, share stories about our home Churches, dream about the future!"
Philadelphians, too, have been sounding off about the conclave online. Twitter posts from area users this morning ranged from expressions of disinterest to "Let’s get this conclave started!" and "Can’t wait to find out who the new pope is!!!!!"
For those who don’t care about the conclave until a pope is chosen, there’s popealarm.com. The site, set up by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, lets users sign up to get a text message or email when a pope is selected. The service launched Saturday; by Monday, more than 35,000 people had registered.
"It is possible that someone would be sleeping or engaged in another activity and not know of the election,” Kevin Cotter, the group’s web director, said in a statement. “Unlike past elections, we currently have the technology to alert you about the Pope's election and our service can alert you right away, wherever you are."
Other groups are using the online buzz about the conclave to engage Catholics. One new site has users sign up to "adopt" a cardinal to pray for.
"You now have the opportunity to actively be part of this providential endeavour by having a Cardinal assigned to you, who you will support through your prayer and intercession during the coming weeks before and during the conclave and for three days following the election," the Adopt A Cardinal homepage says.
And the Religion News Service has set up March Madness-style "Sweet Sistine" bracket that lets people try to guess the next pope. Duquesne University in Pittsburgh as a similar contest, dubbed Papal Madness.