It may be interesting to conjecture whether Jesus, walking amongst us in the flesh and as yet 'unResurrected', would have taken the trouble to maintain a Facebook account. Such a reflection is easily provoked by a city like Milan, especially in view of the oxymoronic utility of its ancient Ambrosian basilicas. Ostensibly visited today more as vast museums than as places of worship, even the masses here begin to betray a quaint leitmotif of outmoded shamanistic rites, expressed in some theatrical symbolism by which colourful priests preside over fellow troupers, much like lead players upon a cluttered stage.

For today's veteran catholic faithful, that irrevocable change probably began in and around the late 60s (viz. following the Second Vatican Council), with a burgeoning fashion of choosing the more beguiling Sunday pew seats. In my case it was represented in an earlier life by the option for a local priory church, its neo-Gothic sanctuary animated by a whimsical dominican who, besides playing the cool cat, even sported a tattoo on one arm. A sensation among the youth of our community, the man was an energetic specimen of clerical showmanship - adept at tossing out irreverent quips to win us all over for Christ and with a knack for that form of self-deprecatory bon mot which would reduce congregations to tears of glee. Also, his homilies were blissfully brief, i.e. over almost as soon as they had begun praise the Lord.

Yet, just as the online protagonism of our current contingent of social network pastors is perhaps the logical consequence of that pre-Internet cult of the parochial celebrity, so, too, was our young friar no more than a tiny wavelet along the same surging tide of snazzy personalities reassuring insecure churchgoers during that daunting countdown to the third millennium. The over-arching objective was a seismic shift towards holy glitz and glitter - recruited in this case to join the arsenal of an advancing, mediatic revolution - that developing circus which would closely influence the style of the papacy, as well with the arrival upon the scene of the most charismatic actor-pope of the late twentieth century, now sainted.

Though even your run-of-the-mill pew sitter of Renaissance times is likely to have been little interested in who the pontiff was at any given time, fresh notions of having to wow crowds and kiss babies have now yielded new, creative interpretations of Christ's mission to Peter, culminating in a more ambitious Petrine project - even if, arguably, the ecclesiology of the Church had always accorded the singular dignity of being the most public icon of Catholic Christianity to Christ alone, with the successor of Peter viewed only as nominal pater familias within that 'faith economy'.

Finally, whether or not the shipwreck has been salvaged in the two-years-plus since Benedict XVI's abdication, what begins to grow evident in the dramatic transition from Rusty Ratzinger to Bubbly Bergoglio is that the Holy See has certainly grasped the urgent necessity to merge some form of cyber strategy with those much-lauded, albeit long overdue, efforts at housekeeping. Indeed it would appear that to our top-ranking shepherds in Rome to whom history has awarded no modest leverage in pasturing a sheepfold both at home and abroad it has become increasingly clear that, left to himself within netspace, even gentle Jesus meek and mild can no longer be palatable for popular consumption without a serious digital makeover. #Facebook #Religion