The Pope Benedict XVI joined Twitter on Monday. In the first few hours he acquired 70,000 followers and by Dec. 3, over 200,000 followers. With 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, Twitter may be set for a new record in number of followers for any account.
As the Daily Mail puts it "God's representative on Earth will soon be spreading his holy message via Twitter."
The Pope's tweets are expected to be updates on his weekly general audience, Sunday blessings and homilies on major Church holidays.
Wired.com reports the Pope is using the official handle @Pontifex. According to a statement by the Vatican, the Pope's move is “a concrete expression that the Church must be present in the digital arena.” The statement added: "This initiative is best understood in the context of his reflections on the importance of the cultural space that has been brought into being by the new technologies ... the Pope's presence on Twitter can be seen as the 'tip of the iceberg' that is the Church's presence in the world of new media."
Greg Burke, senior media adviser to the Vatican, said @Pontifex is appropriate for a number of reasons. He explained: "The handle is a good one. It means 'pope' and it also means 'bridge builder.'" He added: "The Pope wants to reach out to everyone," and explained further, "We are going to get a spiritual message. The Pope is not going to be walking around with a Blackberry or an iPad and no one is going to be putting words into the Pope's mouth. He will tweet what he wants to tweet."
Pope Benedict XVI joins Twitter
Reuters reports Burke said: "This is the new market of ideas and the Church has to be there. We want to use any method to spread the message. It's cost-effective and not very labor intensive and it is aimed at young people."
According to Reuters, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican's communications commission, said while he himself was not a twitter enthusiast, he understood its importance and the new possibilities it opens for the Church.
The Pope joins Twitter
Celli said: "Reducing the pope's message to 140 characters is definitely a challenge but we have seen that a profound thought can also be expressed in a brief Biblical passage. We can see this as sparks of truth or pellets of wisdom."
In response to questions about the risk the Pope is taking entering an open forum that generates uncensored discussion and questions such as "Who will win between Jesus Christ and Wolverine," Monsignor Paul Tighe of the Vatican's communications commission, said: "I think the risk would be not to go there because you are afraid of going there. Then you would leave vacant a space that is important to spread the pope's teachings."
Twitter acknowledged the pontiff's presence on the social networking service with the message that “no matter where you live or where you are, you can connect with, and get inspiration directly from, one of the world’s most influential religious leaders.”
The Daily Mail reports the Vatican decided against using a personal Facebook page for the Pope because they thought it was too personal.
Benedict XVI will post his first tweet on December 12, the feast of the Madonna of Guadalupe, and he will be posting regular tweets in eight languages from his account: Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Arabic and French. Other languages will be added in the future, the Vatican said.
While the Pope will be sending his first tweet himself, future tweets will be written by aides but he will approve them before they are posted in his name.
On December 12, the Pope will be answering questions submitted under the hashtag #AskPontifex. The questions the Pope will be responding to are those pertaining to matters of faith and belief.
The Vatican said precautions have been taken protect the Pope's account from being hacked. Only one computer in the Vatican's secretariat of state will be used for the tweets.
The Telegraph warns His Holiness, "Twitter can be very addictive and it can make you share with the world thoughts that ought to remain private... how long before the Pope posts photos of his cats on Reddit?"
Wired.com reports that there is already a parody account, @RealPontifex which has been answering papal questions ahead of December 12.