The Guardian is reporting that the Catholic Church is putting together a something-old-something-new combination that they hope catches on. They are pairing indulgences with social media.
You remember indulgences from history class in school? It was one of the points of contention that led to the Protestant Revolution. Specifically, some priests were selling indulgences. But what is an indulgence?
Simply put, an indulgence is time off for good behavior. In the Catholic belief system, there is an intermediary position between this life and heaven, purgatory. One can shorten one's time in purgatory by gaining indulgences in this life. Technically speaking, it is not forgiveness, just a commuting of a sentence.
Historically, indulgences have been granted for certain behaviors. Pope Leo X granted indulgences for people who donated to the reconstruction of St. Peter's Basilica. The rules have changed over the years, but nowadays indulgences are granted for scripture reading, observing the Stations of the Cross, and observing certain special days, such as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and World Youth Day.
And it is World Youth Day that has popped up in the feed lately. First started by Pope John Paul II in 1985, the upcoming World Youth Day will have a special feature: Tweets from the Vatican. And you can get an indulgence for following the Pope's Twitter feed for World Youth Day.
It works like this: since not all Catholics can actually make it to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, indulgences are granted for people who follow the events via the media - radio, television, etc. And nowadays, that includes social media.
"That includes following Twitter," said a Vatican source, referring to Pope Francis' Twitter account, which now has seven million followers. "But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the Internet."
But you can also follow the Vatican's Facebook page, Pinterest account and a special app set up for the event.
"What really counts is that the tweets the Pope sends from Brazil or the photos of the Catholic World Youth Day that go up on Pinterest produce authentic spiritual fruit in the hearts of everyone," says the Vatican.