His holiness Pope Benedict XVI is clearly rather adept at utilizing modern technology for an 81-year-old in a dress, but his young Gen Y pilgrim followers are even more tech savvy.

The advent of World Youth Day has brought forth a myriad of Catholic gadget fun with Papal text messages, WYD websites and a social networking site for young pilgrims based on the facebook/myspace model.

The papal text isn’t uber cool given that everyone in Australia knows what the message will be before the pilgrims actually get it, thanks to some rigorous WYD reporting in the media. And the official WYD homepage is not unique — it’s set up in much the same way the mainstream music festival homepages are.

But the social networking site? This is impressive.

Called xt3, this site features all the regular functions – you can add friends, upload photos, chat to people and create or join groups.

But xt3, from bringing “Xt” (Christ) into the 3rd Millennium, is so, so much more than any secular network could ever hope to be.

Your profile can include details of your beliefs and your diocese; the groups you can join have names like “Theology on Tap” and “John Paul II we love you”; you can pledge to stay celibate or away from drugs and there’s even an “Ask a Priest” function.

There are links to the Vatican homepage, reminders for different saints days, and most interesting are the discussion pages for airing the concerns of young Catholics — concerns like pre-marital sex, climate change, IVF, French kissing, bio-technology, homos-xuality and molestation in the church.

The questions these kids ask the priests are not easy ones.

But to their credit the responses given by the much older priests are written simply and to the point, referring to the Bible and the words of well known Catholic leaders like the Pope and Archbishop Pell.

These forums are the heart of the site and its most unique aspect — they’re free from secular heckling and able to bring up issues they might feel uncomfortable talking about in person.

It’s clear that for now the primary function xt3 is to facilitate pilgrims and their problems. But the church says WYD is a platform to promote and expand xt3 which will continue for the foreseeable future.

And if the current incarnation is anything to go by, it looks set for success — despite the fact that xt3 is run by volunteers and was launched only last month — it already has seven thousand members so far.

Watch out facebook — the Catholics are coming.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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