Pope Benedict on Twitter: @PONTIFEX
Pope Benedict XVI announced his plans to use Twitter. He will send his first tweet on Wednesday, 12 December at noon (Rome) time.
The Pope’s Twitter stream can be followed @pontifex from the same time. He is going to answer questions, which can be sent to him via Twitter using the hashtag #askpontifex. The Vatican is also planning to launch an official papal app for smartphones and will start producing e-books. The app will be submitted to Apple for approval this week and should be available for free on iTunes by the end of the year.
According to Gustavo Entrala, CEO of the Spanish firm that developed the app with the Vatican, “The Pope App” will allow Catholics to follow papal Masses and events in real time, and to peek inside the Vatican through webcams. Entrala said they are working on the Android version as well.
Vatican officials also said that the pope won’t be “following” other Twitter users.
“Now he himself will be tweeting some of those concise phrases – less than 140 characters to be precise – to try and share the Good News of Christ with those seeking answers to life’s key questions on their computers, iPads, tablets or smartphones,” said Radio Vaticana last week. “Figures show over 500 million people now have Twitter accounts and at least a quarter of them are using it as their main means of daily communication. Before December 12th they can send questions to the Pope on issues of faith, some of which he’ll try and answer with his first tweets that you can watch in real time during his general audience that day.”
According to the radio, the account goes live in eight languages to start with and the official name or handle for English language users is simply @pontifex.
In addition to English, tweets will also be published in the following languages:
“The Pope’s presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena. … 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. The Church is already richly present in this environment – there exist a whole range of initiatives from the official websites of various institutions and communities to the personal sites, blogs and micro-blogs of public church figures and of individual believers,” said the Vatican last week in the Note explaining the presence of the Holy Father on Twitter.
“The 85-year old pope cannot be expected to type all the messages by himself, but for sure nobody is going to be putting words into his mouth,” said by Greg Burke, former Fox News journalist, now senior Vatican adviser for communications. According to Burke, Benedict XVI will personally approve the content of every tweet. The bulk of these tweets will come from the weekly general audience, Sunday blessings and homilies, as well as addressing his reaction to major world events, including natural disasters.
Pope Benedict himself urged the world’s bishops to make better use of the web, especially after the 2009 media scandal around lifting the excommunication of the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson. He said the crisis could have been avoided if Williamson’s views were widely available online.
When Vatican Radio reporter Philippa Hitchen asked Twitter’s director of social innovation, Claire Díaz-Ortiz, why the company work so hard with the Vatican to help launch this new papal account, Día- Ortiz replied: ”As a company it’s important for us to have influential leaders and the Pope is perhaps the most important religious leader in the world who’s joining our platform. We’ve seen great work done by other religious leaders in terms of what it means to reach so many people, so we’re eager and hopeful the Pope will be able to connect with believers and non-believers alike.”
Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said: “I think symbolically this is very important, this is the head of the Church going into a new digital arena to share his words and ideas … It’s an encouragement to those already present using Twitter and other forms of social media to reach an even wider group of people… When the Holy Father is working on sermons or talks he’ll give explicit attention to how to formulate a shorter message that will be tweeted in his name, maybe with the longer URL attached… It’s really an entry level of engagement.”
As Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli and Greg Burke emphasized during the press conference last Monday, the Pope and the Church have to be where the people are.
“While the pope himself was not a big Twitter fan, he understood its importance and its possibilities for the Church. 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,” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli said. “We can see these as sparks of truth or pellets of wisdom.”
The pope’s Twitter account, @Pontifex, drew more than 200,000 followers in the first hours after the announcement last Monday.