Taking A Cue From Pope Francis, Phoenix-Area Priests Use Social Media To Connect With Their Flock

Published: Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - 9:51am
Updated: Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - 9:54am
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(Photo by Kathy Ritchie - KJZZ)
Father Rob Clements frequently uses Twitter to connect with his followers.

In the more than two years since Pope Francis became head of the Catholic Church, his social media footprint has grown considerably. On Twitter, he has more than 20 million followers, a figure that includes his non-English accounts as well. The Vatican runs an Instagram account featuring photos of the Holy Father posing for selfies and holding Mass.

But the Pope isn’t the only Catholic engaging his flock using social media.

Father Rob Clements is the director and pastor at the Catholic Newman Center at Arizona State University. He’s been doing the social media thing — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — since he came to Newman in 2010.

"The Catholic Churches encourages 'use technology, use social media, because it can be effective tools in work of evangelizing,'" Clements said.

Like when he retweets Pope Francis. Something he does often. But in a time when the Catholic Church is struggling to keep its younger members, social media is becoming a must.

"Social media does tend to humanize us," Clements said. "If we don’t at least take on the whole question of being approachable, how are we to re-engage the world at large, but generations that have disconnected from practice of faith?

With more than a thousand Twitter followers, Clements' influence goes beyond church doors. He’s more like a friend rather than some stern figure who preaches about fire and brimstone.

Still, this kind of accessibility comes with its own set of challenges.

"Like they’ve tweeted things and I reply, 'you know confessions are at 6 p.m. tomorrow,'" he laughs.

And — no surprise here — there are apps for that.

"The Mea Culpa app is, it’s an examination of conscious, 'OK, how have I sinned,' it’s to help in self-understanding. The danger with it, though, very often because on the app you can punch 'OK, I’ve done this, I’ve done this, I’ve done this' and it becomes something of a score card," Clements said.

Milly Venezia is the director of student life at Newman. She’s also active on social media. Of course at age 25, it’s pretty much in her DNA. But when it comes to social media and God:

"It does makes it more approachable and the doors are not closed, the doors are very open at the Catholic Church and makes it more inviting and welcoming to outsiders that may not know," Venzia said.

And it’s that the thing. With social media, Pope Francis and priests like Clements, even local dioceses are helping to change the face of the Catholic Church — one Tweet, like or share at a time.