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Vatican Interns Help Build Papal Following On Social Media


For All Tech Considered today, the Pope's social media operation. The Pope's Twitter feed is among most popular in the world - 20 million followers in English and eight other languages. From member station WHYY, Jennifer Lynn introduces us to two young women who are helping to build his social media profile.

JENNIFER LYNN, BYLINE: Pope Francis offers fresh tweets every three or four days under the username @Pontifex. The handle essentially means bridge builder in Latin.

TATUM MURRAY: Most recent tweet is from two days ago, and it says, Lord, help us always to be more generous and closer to poor families - amen, amen (laughter). That's a popular response to these tweets.

LYNN: Tatum Murray is a communications major in her junior year at Villanova, a Catholic university outside of Philadelphia. This year, she was sent to Rome for an internship at the Vatican's online news hub.

MURRAY: Working on Instagram, on Facebook, going and taking pictures at papal events, just really getting the word out about what's going on with the Pope.

LYNN: Murray monitored Pope Francis's Twitter account and posted his inspirational messages to other social media platforms. In March, she helped the Vatican announce that Catholics would celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy in December. This young American posted the breaking news on Instagram, taking this old world institution's media reach in a new direction.

MURRAY: Being a big Instagrammer myself, I could bring that skill to the team. The team is a group of people who are middle-aged or older, so they aren't really as up on Instagram.

LYNN: And they really weren't up on something else..

MURRAY: You definitely have to go in with an open mind.

LYNN: Recent graduate Mika Rhabb served as a Villanova Vatican intern three years ago when Benedict XVI was Pope. She had to adjust to the pace of things.

MIKA RHABB: At the Vatican, you have to take your time. Not everyone is going to operate the way that we do here in Villanova, and that's at a fast pace.

LYNN: That's not to say there wasn't some hustle. In the final weeks of her internship, Rhabb was asked to work quickly on a big project.

RHABB: I worked on the launch of papal Twitter account.

LYNN: Rhabb helped research world leaders' Twitter pages. She observed messaging styles and how they interacted with youthful followers.

RHABB: This is a huge step for a religious leader like the Pope to actually take a step into social media to try and reach out to the youth, or not just the youth, but everybody, to make him more tangible.

LYNN: What followed was a dream come true. Rhabb and her team stood with Pope Benedict when he announced to the world his presence on Twitter.

RHABB: It was amazing. We were just all anticipating the first tweet. He actually poked the iPad (laughter), and after that, everyone went crazy.

LYNN: Rhabb went crazier in the moments to follow. The pontiff abandoned the iPad to shake her hand and to ask her how she was enjoying her time in Rome. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Lynn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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