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The story behind Pope Francis’ emoji face, and how you can get one of those (free!) signs

What’s the best way to get millennial Catholics excited about Pope Francis’ visit?

Turn him into emoji, and hand it out to adoring crowds, of course. Yep, for the biggest event in the city’s recent history, Philadelphia has Pope Francis’ face-on-a-stick.

The Catholic media company Aleteia planned the digital version of the Popemoji, and is distributing the Popemoji signs along the Parkway today. Released earlier this month, both free products have proven very popular. As of last night, according to Aleteia, about 81,000 people had downloaded the Popemoji and more than 800,000 thousand individual Popemojis had been sent digitally. “Digital street team” members of Aleteia, including volunteers, have distributed thousands of the Popemoji signs in Philadelphia, as well as in New York and Washington D.C.

The idea for the Popemoji was developed a few months ago. Jason Deal, Aleteia’s EVP of strategy and marketing, told Billy Penn that Aleteia wanted to connect with more young people during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. The media company is a much bigger deal in Spain and Italy and is trying to gain more of a foothold here. In addition to a social media campaign driven by the company’s @PopeIsHope account, Aleteia partnered with Swyft to design the Popemoji, and it has proven more successful than they anticipated.

“This is the best opportunity we have to remind young Catholics to feel great about their faith,” Deal said. 

The Popemoji signs have been hot items in all three cities Francis has visited. Deal said when they officially launched the Popemoji in New York two weeks ago they printed out about 200 and saw people go crazy over them. This morning, Deal personally handed out several signs.

“People were offering to buy them for like $2,” he said.

Aleteia is not charging anything for them. And if you’re still trying to get your own pope-on-a-stick, there’s good news. Aleteia ordered an “emergency” last-minute shipment of 3,000 that just arrived this morning. Its street team, which is headquartered at Project Home in Fairmount, plans to distribute them around the Convention Center and the Parkway later this afternoon before the evening festivities begin.

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