Attracting a Younger Generation of Catholics: There's an App for That

Villanova students have religious experience in Rome

They miss clothes dryers, cheeseburgers, American television, iced coffee, honey mustard sauce, and Chipotle -- some of the staples for an American college student. But those conveniences have been given up happily by three Villanova University students in return for what they describe as an appreciation for life's simple joys, a new global perspective and a deepened faith.

The modernity of Pope Francis and the old-world culture of Italy are to thank for it all, they say.

"Being here has made me disconnected from the things that don't matter...and has made me realize what's really important to be connected to," says Villanova student Vincent Ventura, 20, of Wayne, N.J.

Tens of thousands of American college students go to Italy for study abroad programs every semester, but Villanova students Ventura, Emily Antenucci, 20, of Monroe, Conn., and Anna Bauer , 21, of Bexley, Ohio, are among the chosen few who get to experience a unique layer of Italian culture: Peeking into the world of the Vatican itself as journalism and social media interns.


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And with Pope Francis at the helm, they say they are inspired in ways they didn't expect.

"I wouldn't say I was super Catholic, but just being here I have grown a new appreciation for what it means to be Catholic," said Antenucci, who is interning with the Catholic News Service.

"Especially with Pope Francis. He's so relatable; he's so open to the people," said Antenucci. "He touches people, and he laughs at himself when he makes mistakes. It makes him look more human. Learning about what makes him special is really what made me more into it, learning to develop my faith."

While Antenucci works on the traditional journalism side of the Vatican, Ventura and Bauer work on the social media and communications side. The modern use of technology seems to go hand-in-hand with this modern Pope who has been attracting a young generation of followers, the college students said.

"We're bringing faith into the conversation via social media and that's incredible," Ventura said.

How are they doing this in the church of Pope Francis? Well for one, there's The Pope App. Yes, it's called The Pope App and it's available in the Google Play store.

The Vatican and Pope Francis are also accessible through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

"It's really bringing topics of faith into a new era," said Ventura. "Utilizing technology to spread the Gospel, which is really the mission of the Vatican, is much like how the disciples used the Roman roads to spread the word."

All of this really shouldn't be a surprise, as Francis is the first pope to take "selfies" with his faithful.

"He really revitalized a generation of Catholics," said Ventura. "He brings new energy to the church. He's really focused it toward the young people."

Working with social media in this way keeps the Catholic community connected worldwide in a way that has never been experienced, Bauer said. After posting Vatican news to the Facebook page, Bauer said that people from all over the world react and join the conversation within minutes, allowing her to experience the global community on her laptop.

Watching papal audiences every week, the interns get to see people from all over the world come and share their faith.

"Every papal audience is really a celebration and it's a celebration of people from all walks of life coming together for this one cause," said Ventura.

Pope Francis' influence hasn't been the only spiritual experience for these local college students. Besides the heavenly food in Italy, the Italian culture of appreciating the simple things in life has been influential for each of them, they said.

"Getting a meal isn't just about sustenance," said Ventura. "It's about sharing in someone's company and enjoying the food too. There isn't this rush to eat quickly. I really feel like they have an appreciation for life here."

"We stop and get a coffee every day at 10 a.m. in my office," said Antenucci. "In America you go get coffee and sit back down at your desk. But here we actually take a half hour, relax, and we talk about work, which ends up being more productive."

"It's as if you're just taking a deep breath. You learn to sit back for a second and then you move on," said Anna.

All three say that they want to take the experiences they've had the privilege to enjoy in Rome and incorporate them into their lives at home.

But first: Maybe a cheeseburger, a skinny vanilla latte, and a week-long binge of watching television.

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