Google is landing another (very) high-profile returning Google Hangout participant: Pope Francis. On Thursday at 10 a.m. Eastern time, the Pope will hold a conversation with children from Brazil, India, Spain, and the United States. It will be his second public video appearance on the livecasting platform; his first was in September.
Carlo D’Asaro Biondo, who handles Google’s strategic relationships in Europe, writes “Last November, Pope Francis interrupted his weekly Audience to embrace a man suffering from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disease that causes disfiguring tumors. The compassionate gesture touched the hearts of the thousands of people gathered at Saint Peter’s Square and, within no time, images of the encounter had circled around the world. This week, the Pope will once again remind us that all it takes to connect with others is the will to reach out. With the help of technology, Pope Francis will extend a virtual embrace to others around the world who have disabilities and special needs.”
While the papal appearance is obviously a big deal for Google, which has previously successfully courted other world leaders including President Barack Obama, it also signals the Vatican’s increasing willingness to engage in online outreach. Pope Benedict XVI inagurated the @pontifex Twitter account in late 2012, and the Vatican’s social communications office is actively engaged in teaching church clergy and lay best practices for new media.