When Pope Francis visits the U.S. for the first time next month, he'll be trailed by a team of young citizen journalists.
Aleteia, a Catholic news web site, has assembled a Digital Street Team tasked with capturing the spirit of the pope's historic trip by sharing their reactions online and talking to pilgrims, millions of whom are expected to flock to the East Coast.
The site asked contestants to promote the idea that #GoodIsWinning on their own social media channels, and selected more than 50 millennials from 23 different states. The winners will share scenes from the pope's visit on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, Facebook and Periscope, through their personal social media handles and the official @PopeIsHope handle.
The top three winners will get a paid trip to Philadelphia, and others may receive media passes to the pope's events. One of the top winners, Connor Dwyer, said that while he’s not Catholic, he’s a big fan of this pope.
"I feel like every time I read something about Pope Francis, it gets me so pumped and excited that someone so famous and influential is hugging lepers and bringing unity to nations," Dwyer, a 23-year-old graphic designer from Atlanta, told The Huffington Post. "And that’s why I’m so inspired, by his character and the legacy he’s already leaving.”
“I feel like media, especially social media, can become so negative so quickly and people can focus on the awful things happening in the world," he added. "But there’s so much good that’s going on and it’s such a breath of fresh air to be telling those stories.”
About 30 members of the team will be on-site in Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington D.C., while the rest will capture the reaction to the pope's visit from their own hometowns.
The Aleteia team wanted to involve young people specifically because they tend to be the least religious. According to the Pew Research Center, a high percentage of young Millennials say they are atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular."
"Everyone knows that the church needs to reach out to young people. Every faith feels the same way," Jason Deal, senior vice president of strategy and marketing for Aleteia, said. "We hope that we can start to get a different perception out there amongst young people about the Catholic faith and the role of the pope."
The team made a point of not asking candidates about their religion, said Kathleen Hessert, the project manager for the initiative.
"We didn't want to know. We just wanted to know that they believe in the wonderful approach the pope is taking that is creating good in the world," Hessert said. "Our intent was not to go to the typical avid churchgoer, but to broaden the reach. Because like any entity, you have to bring new people in to build and sustain it in the long term."
Check out some of the winners below:
This story has been updated to include comment from competition winner Connor Dwyer.