More than 1 million Catholic kids from across the world are converging on Madrid, Spain, for World Youth Day 2011, and every one of them seems to be tweeting, texting and Facebooking home — including a group from rural Arkansas.

World Youth Day attendees from Australia

Most are using their smart phones to keep up with changes in the event — and whether they’ll need an umbrella.

The six-day religious youth festival, which begins Tuesday, is celebrated every three years in a different country. Pope Benedict XVI is due to arrive on Thursday to speak to the kids.

Many of this year’s participants are members of what is being called “Generation Web 2.0,” kids for whom the Internet is as normal as breathing and finding a snack. That’s certainly true of the 30 or so from two churches in rural Arkansas pastored by Father Shaun Wesley.

Unlike years past when a traveler waited a week after returning home to get photos of the vacation, the million-plus youngsters converging on Spain seem to be photographing everything they see — and emailing it home. It’s no different with Father Shaun’s kids.

Clare Doss at the Lourdes, France, shrine (photo by Blanca Beas)

Avidly keeping up with their their adventures are parents such as Connie Doss, who stayed home while daughter Clare, 15, flew away with dad and group chaperone Barry Doss.

Also watching with intense interest are parents Dr. Kevin and Pam Richter, whose kids Adam and Samantha are in the group, and the extended family of siblings Kevin and Lizet Guerrero, who are posting photos on Facebook sent by group member Blanca Beas. The group’s every move is being transmitted home — as they boarded a flight in Tulsa, waited for a connecting flight in Houston, arrived in France and visited the famous shrine at Lourdes, France. 

And the same thing is happening worldwide as parents wait for the latest chime on their cellphone — a new photo of their youngster dozing in the airport, mugging the camera in front of a museum or just letting Mom know that everything’s OK even if their kid forgot to pack clean socks.

The internet is making attendance at such an immense event much easier, says organizers and supporters such as 25-year-old German blogger Stephan Lesting.

After all the famed Woodstock Festival attracted perhaps one fifth of the 1 million-plus kids heading for Madrid.

A group of attendees from Chicago

“Thanks to the Internet everything will be much simpler at World Youth Day,” says Lesting. Mobile online messaging has become essential. Participants can check the World Youth Day official website via their smart phones. There’s even an “app” for the event. From iBoo Mobile, the application keeps users up-to-date with all of the events during the week and provides access to news, online TV, weather reports and the website Twitter.

There’s a virtual bell that users are encouraged to activate that will chime in unison with church bells that will herald the pope’s arrival in Madrid.

The official World Youth Day website has more than 400,000 members. Facebook is hosting national World Youth Day sites in 21 different languages. There fans who are not able to attend the event in person will be able to light a virtual candle.

“The whole world is online, the church and the Internet belong together,” said Lesting.

Chaperone Barry Doss and Arkansas kids at a restaurant somewhere in France (photo by Blanca Beas)

Meanwhile, the Arkansas kids’ parents are keeping up online, thanks to Connie Doss who is posting on Facebook the best photos sent home so far by Father Shaun, Blanca and group member Ulises Rangel.

“Agenda for Tuesday,” reported Connie Tuesday morning on Facebook. “Leave their hotel by 7 AM and travel through Spain to be in Madrid for the Opening Mass at 5:30 pm. After Mass, they’ll check into their hotel, have dinner at a restaurant about a 5-minute walk away. I don’t have their menu. Sorry. I’m sure Fr. Shaun will take pics of the table and food – YUM! Wed/Thurs/Fri/Sat are all in Madrid!!”

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