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Follow the Hashtag

Can social media bring young people back to Church?

As church attendance continues to wane in Europe, Christian clerics are trying to modernize existing traditions, such as Germany's bi-annual Katholikentag, with the use of social media.

This week, the German Catholic Church is assembling its members - clergy and laymen alike - for a traditional gathering of the faithful from across Europe.

Held in Leipzig in eastern Germany, the Katholikentag is an event that draws tens of thousands.

Yet as Church attendance steadily decreases throughout most of Europe, a growing ideological divide has developed between modern youths and Church doctrine over issues such as gay rights, contraception, or, in Germany, the often unpopular

church tax

.

Now, the Church is trying to reconnect - through the use of social media.

Katholikentag maintains a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Youtube and Instagram, but it's gone a step beyond for this year's event.

Speaking to DW, Jans Albers of Katholikentag’s social media department explained that, in order to get close to young people, the association had taken in 25 journalism trainees, aged 18 to 26, and more or less handed them the keys to their various social media platforms.

The group of students has used Facebook Live to livestream some of the events and has posted videos of their "takeover" of the social media channels.

"We just told them to be creative," Albers said, saying they have not given any clear instructions to these students.

Online prayers

Catholics clerics are not the only ones turning to the Internet to further their personal gospels, though.

Twitter, that ideal tool for quick, snappy lines, is also well suited to Christian prayers. It's proving a good platform for informal groups and religious individuals to live out their faith online.

In Germany, various accounts relay daily prayer sessions throughout the day, uniting Christians of all denominations. Others join in by retweeting, liking or replying to the original tweets.

One of these, @twaudes - a contraction of the words "tweet" and the traditional Catholic morning service "lauds" - posts prayers ever morning at 6AM. The tweet from Thursday morning (26.05) reads: "Father, lead us. Christ, bless our way. Holy Spirit, live in our hearts prepare them to love. Amen."

A similar account run by a self-described "young student" is even more successful, perhaps because the tweets come at 9 p.m. instead of the small hours of the morning. The latest reads: "Lord Jesus Christ, stay by our side in the hours of the night."

There's an app for that

Facebook group or Twitter conversations are not the only online spot for Christians to update their religious practices. There are also apps offering devout Christians help in living out their faith.

Some, like the German app amen.de, allow their users to pray for one another, or to ask others to pray for a particular cause. They later share with the user community whether or not these prayers came to fruition.

Outside Germany, the Novenas app, named after a traditional form of Christian praying, consists of repeating the same prayer for nine days, offering a variety of services to worshipers, including lists of prayers, reminders for prayer times and significant religious dates.

On its website, Amen.de claims 1.3 million prayers have been written on its platform since it launched in 2013. Novenas has flattering reviews on the Google Play Store, where it has been downloaded between 50,000 and 100,000 times in the last year, according to the sales platform.

The Katholikentag, meanwhile, boasts a far smaller audience - just 7,500 followers on Facebook, for example.

Then again, the Catholic gathering is in the spotlight just once every two years. Permanent Catholic institutions, chiefly among which is Pope Francis, have realized the potential of social media.

And if Francis’ following - 9.35 million on Twitter, 2.4 million on Instagram - is anything to go by, Germany’s Catholics might be taking the right approach.

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