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Will The Pope's YouTube Channel Be A Hit?

It is certainly a case of the old being fused with the new, but will the Pope's partnership with Google be a match made in heaven?

That's a question Catholics are asking as organized religion continues to expand its reach onto the Internet.

The Vatican announced Saturday that its radio and television arms will be collaborating with the Internet search engine giant – which also owns video sharing site YouTube – to bring news of the pontiff, as well as video and text of his speeches to the World Wide Web.

The Roman-Catholic church provided scant details, but promised to release more information about the project on Friday at a media conference so big it has a title and a subtitle: "New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship."

The media event has the same name as the church's theme for World Communications Day, with which it also coincides. When he announced the theme last year, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican's Department of Social Communications, reminded Catholics that the Internet, though fraught with sinful temptations, "creates new conditions and possibilities for mankind to use and apply this resource for the common good, placing it at the foundation of a widespread cultural growth".

This is hardly the Vatican's first foray onto the Web. The Vatican launched its Web Site in 1995 under the watch of Pope John Paul II. Back then, the site was run by three computers – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael – named for the archangels. Since then Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, have launched sites.

The debate among Catholics about the value of the Internet as a missionary tool has been heating up in recent years. Father Antonio Spadaro is a Jesuit Priest who belongs to several social networking Web sites and has encouraged Catholics to share the word of God with their fellow man via the Internet sensation Second Life.

"Like every Internet reality that directly involves human life, desires, tensions and relationships, Facebook is also a place where faith and religiosity are expressed and have their relevance," Spadaro wrote in the Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica.

Last week, Spadaro shared an anecdote with the Catholic News Service about the popularity of religious figures on social networking sites. He noted, when the webmaster of the Archdiocese of Naples, Italy, opened a Facebook account for his archbishop, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the number of people asking to befriend the cardinal quickly reached Facebook's maximum of 5,000 friends.

If that's any indication, then the Pope's YouTube channel ought to do quite well.

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