Pope Francis 'beginning a new journey' as he posts his first Instagram

Pope Francis today (19 March) posted his first photo on Instagram, spreading a message of prayer to his 63,000 followers in his latest bid to connect a young digital generation with the Catholic church.

The photo, posted under the username @Franciscus shows the leader of the Catholic Church kneeling in prayer captioned with the words “Pray for me” in nine languages. The post drew more than 15,000 likes in its first hour, with his account gathering roughly 63,000 followers so far. Francis is currently a big influencer on social: he joined Twitter in 2013 and has more than 21 million followers across his English and Spanish Twitter accounts.

Under his @Pontifex handle on Twitter he wrote: "I am beginning a new journey, on Instagram, to walk with you along the path of mercy and the tenderness of God."

The move is part of wider social media strategy dreamt up by the church to ensure the pope's teachings reach a large number of believers and non-believers globally.

In the December following his inauguration, Francis drafted in US communications consultancy McKinsey and Co to help him manage the church's image and modernise its communications operations for a younger generation.

A couple of weeks ago, the leader met with Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom to discuss the power of pictures and how they can be used to "unite people across borders, cultures and generations."

"We spoke about the power of images to united people across different cultures and languages," Systrom posted on his Instagram account. "It was by far one of the most memorable experiences of my life!"

The Vatican also reported Pope Francis met with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of the parent company of Google, and Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, in January.

Not satisfied with simply improving his social media presence, the Vatican reported Pope Francis will make his acting debut this year - the first pontiff to star in a feature film - which will see him play himself in Italian gospels film Beyond the Sun.