Sometimes the amount of misinformation one headline can convey is mesmerizing. Such has been the case over the past 30 hours or so regarding Pope Francis, Twitter, and World Youth Day.
I don’t think I can do better than “tantalizingly weird,” as Fr. James Martin, S.J., describes the likes of “Catholic Church promises time off purgatory to Twitter followers.”
That Washington Post headline, for the record, is not true. But because of it and others, I’ve been getting e-mails asking:
Is it really true that merely following the pope on Twitter will save you from the fires of the hell?
Is the Church this desperate?
Are you guys serious?
No, following the pope on Twitter is not a ticket out of the Inferno. And if you’ve taken a look at some of the tweets at the @pontifex account, you know that it’s been an occasion of sin for some, requiring much more than social media alone can provide.
The pope’s first international trip happens next week, as he returns to South America for the first time since the papal conclave that elected him pontiff. He’s headed to Rio for a Benedict-scheduled World Youth Day, a major pilgrimage experience for the young people in attendance. The most recent World Youth Day was in Madrid and the numbers defied conventional dismissals of the Catholic Church — and the spiritual leadership of Pope Benedict XVI — as irrelevant to the lives of modern young people, who gathered in blistering heat in public witness to the potency of the faith in their lives, praising God, in a spirit of gratitude and penance, in seeking renewal and transformation in Sacrament and Word. (It was a snapshot of the Evangelical Catholicism George Weigel writes about.)
The source of the headlines is the indulgence available to those who with open and contrite hearts participate in the pilgrimage. And since it is a bit of a pricey effort to get to Rio, that same opportunity to work off purgatorial punishment after death now is made available to those who prayerfully participate from afar, watching online or on TV (news.va, EWTN, Catholic TV, Salt & Light, and NET TV). WYD Madrid was the source of ridiculous headlines, as well. The most damaging was a wire story that claimed that there was a one-time-only forgiveness for abortion sins available. Woe to you who did not make it? That, of course, was not the case. But women and men read those headlines, and what pain it must have added to their lives. Anger or sadness, a further hardening as regrets after abortion can eat away at souls, if the wounds are not healed.
As for next week in Rio, don’t believe every crazy headline you read. You may have reporting live from the ground, if my Visa comes through in time . . .