Pope Francis
Could following @Pontifex on Twitter be the key to a joyful afterlife?

The big news from Catholicism this week is that following Pope Francis's tweets about the Church's forthcoming World Youth Day could potentially earn you credit in the lifelong quest to secure yourself a happy afterlife.

The 2013 edition of World Youth Day, a tri-annual event for young Catholics attended by the Pope, starts in Rio de Janeiro next Monday, 22 July. Ever since it was started in 1986, the event has proven something of a hit – 2,000,000 people are estimated to have taken part in the last one in Sydney, and strictly-speaking it's not a "Day" at all, but rather a week-long jamboree of youthful piety.

And the good news for those attending is that doing so appears to be looked upon favourably by the heavenly powers that be. Perhaps owing to my superficial knowledge of Catholic doctrine I had no idea that "Indulgences" were still a thing (I assumed they died out around the time of the Reformation when monks ruffled a few feathers by hawking them for cash), but apparently they are. Essentially they're credits you can earn against your potential time spent in purgatory, and it would seem they've somehow endured into the present day.

According to Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, "you can't obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine", which is a shame, but you can get them for taking part in good Catholic activities, such as climbing Rome's sacred steps or attending World Youth Day (there are more sedentary ways too, according to this list).

And, lest anyone accuse the Church of being behind the times, the Vatican's sacred apostolic penitentiary, which handles this complicated issue, has this week assured the world that it deals in 21st-century Indulgences for 21st-century people, stating that they will be available for "rites and pious exercises" relating to interacting with World Youth Day through TV, radio and the internet, including by following Pope Francis on Twitter.

It's hard to know what to say about this really. I'm not sure where I was planning on going with this blog post, but now I'm at the end all I can really conjure as a summing up is a comment on how strange the whole story is. I mean, it's enough to learn that Indulgences still exist, but to then learn that you can potentially get them by using Twitter? It's certainly a collision of worlds.

In my article on the election of Pope Francis a couple of months ago, I actually admitted to quite enjoying some of the tradition involved in picking the new Pope. Religions, especially the Catholic Church, are very good at history. But when they try to appear up-to-date, particularly through the use of digital media, the results are often fairly ridiculous. If you're looking for a take-home atheist message from all this, I suppose it serves to underline how irrelevant they can seem in the context of the modern world.