ROME: The Pope's traditional Midnight Christmas Mass will be podcast for the first time this year, and his Christmas Day appearances on the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square will also be captured on webcam.

Although 82-year-old Pope Benedict XVI still writes all his speeches by hand, the Holy See is taking a proactive approach to new technology in a bid to lure disenchanted youth back into the fold.

With the world's one billion Roman Catholics now overtaken numerically by the fast-growing Muslim community, and attendance of Mass down to an all-time low in the US, The Pontiff's staff hope that his appearances on YouTube and MySpace will help put religion back on the map.

At least 100 reporters and technicians now contribute to the Vatican's digital projects. Recent initiatives include a dedicated Facebook application which allows believers to send and receive Papal greetings via virtual postcards.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II launched the official Vatican website and began sending text messages to his flock.

Last year, the current Pope took the pseudonym "Bxvi" when he made his first foray into one of the many Catholic forums on Internet chat rooms.

Meanwhile, the Vatican's dedicated internet TV channel, Vatican TV, which offers news coverage of Papal events, boasts almost 20,000 subscribers and more than 2.1 million video hits.

Data sourced from Bloomberg; additional content by WARC staff