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A religious message

August 16, 2011

More than 1 million Catholics have flocked to Madrid for World Youth Day 2011, set to begin Tuesday evening. Many are from "Generation web 2.0," with the Internet changing the way young people and the church communicate.

A Facebook "add friend" message and a crucifix
The Internet offers a new way for the church to connect

More than 1 million Catholics are expected in the Spanish capital, Madrid, to attend World Youth Day 2011, an event upon which technology has increasingly made its mark in recent years.

The six-day religious youth festival, which begins Tuesday, is celebrated every three years in a different country. Pope Benedict XVI is due to arrive on Thursday to lead the event.

Many of this year's participants identify themselves as members of the so-called "Generation Web 2.0," a group for whom the Internet is invaluable when it comes to getting the latest updates and news.

"The Web makes negotiating your way around such a giant event much easier," said 25-year-old blogger and committed German Roman Catholic Stephan Lesting.

"Thanks to the Internet, everything will be much simpler at World Youth Day," he said. "When I'm there, I'll be able to catch up with friends I made on the Internet in the past two or three years but never met before."

A Blackberry
Mobile online messaging has become essential for events like World Youth DayImage: dpa

Participants checking the World Youth Day official website via their smart phones have found that the event has launched an app for their devices to help during the event. From iBoo Mobile, the app keeps users up-to-date with all of the events during the week and provides access to news, online TV, weather reports and the website Twitter.

There's even a virtual bell that users are encouraged to activate, that will chime in unison with church bells that will herald the pope's arrival in Madrid.

'The church and the Internet belong together'

Being online is essential for this generation of Web users, who are changing the way religion and spiritualism are practiced. The official World Youth Day website has more than 400,000 members. Facebook is hosting national World Youth Day sites in 21 different languages, where fans not able to attend the event in person can light a virtual candle.

To reach out to their followers, bishops have started publishing their own blogs. "The whole world is online, the church and the Internet belong together," said Lesting, whose blogs cover topics including ethics, religion, and, currently, cheap mobile phone rates in Spain to coincide with World Youth Day.

In Germany, groups such as the Alliance of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ) and the Kolping Youth of the Catholic Scouts all have an online presence. Such organizations either have their own websites or maintain profiles on social networking sites.

Pope Benedict XVI
The pope is set to hold a Mass as the event draws to a closeImage: AP

The spiritual organization Jugend 2000 has registered two Internet domains - www.weltjugendtag.de (World Youth Day) and www.triff-den-papst.de (meet the pope). Georg Fesslmeier is the webmaster responsible and provides constant news updates and the opportunity for people to arrange to car-share journeys.

"On the 'Meet the Pope' site, people will have the chance to see the pontiff speak live. On the Facebook site, people can organize to meet at World Youth Day and share their joy," said Fesslmeier. "[Christians] would have been happy to have the Internet 2,000 years ago - it's simply much easier to reach more young people."

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of young Christians will be entertained by pop groups at the Cuatro Vientos air base near Madrid.

The pope will hold a prayer vigil in the evening, with members of the congregation camping out ahead of a Mass on Sunday morning.

Author: Friederike Weede / wl, rc
Editor: Martin Kuebler