Word of new pope travels fast via technology

by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The instant the Catholic Church employed its traditional smoke and bells to signal that a pope had been chosen, the world was already abuzz with up-to-the-minute technology sharing the news.

“My wife texted me ‘Habemus papam,’” said Matt Karr, lead consultant for the archdiocesan office of evangelization and Catholic formation of adults.

He had just wrapped up a lunch meeting with young adults in Prairie Village when the text alerted him to the white smoke.

He immediately connected his phone to his car and tuned in to Vatican Radio for the latest, as he drove back to his office in Kansas City, Kan., making it in time to see the announcement on TV.

Information is literally at people’s fingertips today, and constantly advancing technology has evolved dramatically even in the eight years since Pope Benedict XVI was elected in the spring of 2005.

To Karr, an image that circulated on social media (another piece of the technology puzzle that has taken off in the past several years) perfectly captures the differences.

A picture from 2005 shows the crowd in St. Peter’s Square with maybe a sporadic cellphone screen lighting up here or there.

Next to that photo, the 2013 image shows a lighted device — an iPad, a smartphone — glowing in nearly every hand. Looking out over the balcony the night of his election, Pope Francis was quoted as saying all the flashing lights of the cameras across the square “looked like jewels.”

Karr still gathered around a television this time with colleagues to watch the scene in Rome unfold, but this time, Twitter, Facebook, radio from around the world and other readily available sources — along with more traditional media — spread news and information faster than ever.

Even people who had the closest seats for the presentation of the pope used the devices they carried to both spread news and seek information.

Father Edward Ahn, AVI, arrived in St. Peter’s Square with some time to spare before the new pope stepped onto the balcony.

“People were taking pictures,” he said. “A lot of people were calling other people,  letting them know, ‘I’m here at St. Peter’s.’ Within a matter of minutes, this news travels all across the globe.”

Archdiocesan seminarian Agustin Martinez, who is in his first year of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, was also in the square. He and Father Edward gleaned details about the new pope from updates on Vatican Radio.

The updates quickly answered the obvious questions — he was a Jesuit, 76 years old, and from Argentina, Father Edward learned.

Television cameras  — shut out of the Sistine Chapel once the conclave began — started showing the 115 voting cardinals swearing their oaths of secrecy about the proceedings at the Sistine Chapel.

During the conclave itself, live feeds kept watch over the chimney where the smoke would appear, giving anyone who wanted to check in via computer or phone a view of the bird that perched on top of the chimney between votes.

People also signed up for various mobile apps, including a “Pope Alarm” that was supposed to alert users when the white smoke rose.

Connie O’Brien, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Tonganoxie, caught glimpses of the wait for the announcement on a computer where people were watching the live developments, but enjoyed staying on top of the news on her phone when the workday called her away.

As soon as Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony, O’Brien and countless people around the globe had the information in hand.

“If they were paying attention, no matter where they were and [if] they had good connections,” she said, “they knew just as soon as the people in St. Peter’s Square knew who the new pope was.”

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