HE IS known for his hefty volumes of theology, but will now look to spread his faith in 140 characters or less.
Pope Benedict XVI has opened a personal account on the microblogging website, Twitter, as part of a drive by the Catholic Church to engage with social media.
The Vatican said while messages sent by the world’s most powerful religious leader would represent his “pearls of wisdom,” they should not be regarded as infallible teachings.
Within hours of being set up, the pope’s account, @Pontifex, had attracted more than 100,000 followers. By yesterday evening, more than 120,000 people were signed up to receive his updates, and bookmakers are offering slender odds that he will reach one million followers by the year’s end.
The pontiff is due to begin tweeting in eight languages from 12 December and intends to respond live to questions about faith during his weekly general audience, according to the Vatican. Greg Burke, the Vatican’s communications adviser, said the name, @Pontifex, was chosen because it not only means pope in Latin, but also bridge-builder, suggesting unity. “The Pope wants to reach out to everyone,” he explained.
Asked how often the pope will tweet, Mr Burke said he would do it “as often as he wants,” adding that he hoped the tweeting would be frequent and regular. While the majority of Twitter users retweet articles of interest they have read, tell jokes, or comment on television shows, the Vatican stressed that the 85-year-old will be charting a different path.
“We are going to get a spiritual message,” Mr Burke said. “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.”
While the pope will push the button himself on 12 December, subsequent tweets will be sent by someone in the Vatican’s secretariat of state. They will, however, all be approved by the pope, officials said.
“It’s always going to have his engagement and his approval,” said Monsignor Paul Tighe, the No2 in the Vatican’s social communications office.
Subjects expected to be addressed include the contents of the weekly audience, Sunday blessings and homilies on major church holidays. His tweets will also include reactions to major world events.
Questions for the inaugural papal tweet can be submitted using the hashtag, #askpontifex, and the Pope will probably respond to three to five of those sent from around the world, Mr Burke said. Subsequent tweets are expected to remain spiritual in nature, mainly taken from his teachings.
Pope Benedict has already dipped his toe in the water with Twitter.
Last year, he sent his first tweet from a Vatican account to launch the Holy See’s news information portal.