Vatican registers huge growth, engagement online for Holy Week, Easter

A couple watches Pope Francis from their home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as he celebrates Easter Mass April 12, 2020, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Jason Cairnduff, Reuters)

By Carol Glatz 
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Holy Week and Easter events broadcast and shared by Vatican media reached millions of people around the world, attracting new viewers, followers and fans inspired by Pope Francis’ words and gestures.

“We have been struck by the many emails we have received, comments and posts on our social media from people, even agnostics and nonbelievers, who say they have been moved by the words and gestures of the Holy Father during this very difficult period,” Alessandro Gisotti, vice-editorial director of Vatican media, told Catholic News Service by email April 14.

Huge spikes in online visitors, views, follows and comments on their numerous platforms showed that “many people, not just the Catholic faithful, were able to follow and ‘encounter’ the Holy Father and, through him, the Word of God thanks to this technology and especially to streaming services and social media,” he said in a response to a request for information about online engagement during Holy Week and Easter.

Gisotti told CNS that Vatican media outlets tried to put into practice that “creativity of love that the pope asks of us in order to overcome the isolation caused by the pandemic.”

Their Vatican News site, which offers video, radio, podcasts, images, news and audio services in more than 30 languages, saw its number of visitors and page views quadruple from the same liturgical period last year.

Nearly 5.5 million users registered more than 14.5 million views on the vaticannews.va website between April 5 and April 13 versus Holy Week last year, which saw 1.5 million users and some 3.5 million page views.

Vatican News livestreamed all the major events on its YouTube channels with live commentary in six languages, plus, for the first time, a channel featuring a sign-language interpreter.

Easter events broadcast on YouTube, Gisotti said, had more than 2.1 million views.

The social media accounts for Vatican News and Pope Francis also saw huge growth, he said.

Over Holy Week the @Pontifex Twitter accounts surpassed 50 million followers, while the @Franciscus Instagram accounts exceeded 7 million followers.

The Vatican News Instagram account gained 27,000 new followers over Holy Week, bringing them to more than 436,000 followers. Vatican News tweets, over its different Twitter accounts in six languages, had 61 million views and received 31,000 mentions.

There were almost 18 million viewers watching the live video feeds of Holy Week events on the Vatican News Facebook pages in different languages. The Good Friday Way of the Cross alone had more than 5 million viewers. Levels of engagement on Facebook were high with 1.9 million actions on their accounts and an “exceptional number” of almost 143,000 comments made during the pope’s Easter events April 12, Gisotti said.

While all major papal Masses, liturgies and services have long been offered online, only a handful of events are broadcast worldwide via satellite each year. However, this year the Vatican offered for the first time, all major Holy Week and Easter events.

A total of six events were broadcast and distributed free-of-charge, thanks to funding from the Knights of Columbus, to television outlets and networks around the world.

Gisotti said they had no way to estimate the number of television viewers around the world, but there were almost 8 million households (25% of the audience share) tuning in to the Way of the Cross on the Italian public broadcasting company’s RAI 1 channel as well as 750,000 viewers on the Italian bishops’ conference TV channel and unspecified numbers of viewers on the stations’ streaming services.

Easter Mass had a nearly 50% share of the television audience in Italy with more than 8.1 million households viewing the entire event, while 17.5 million households tuned in for at least part of the event.

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