Last week, the Twitterverse welcomed Pope Benedict XVI. His handle, @Pontifex, has been untouched until today.
“Dear friends, I am please to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”
The tweet has received more than 41,000 tweets and 13,500 favorites. The pope actually sent his very first tweet over a year ago, using a generic Vatican account to launch the Holy See’s news information portal. Someone in his name tweeted daily during Lent, part of the Vatican’s efforts to increase the church presence in social media.
The idea of his personal account has been gaining traction since February. Vatican officials have acknowledged the pope won't actually type the messages and that someone in the Vatican's secretariat of state will write them on his behalf. But they have insisted that the words will be his alone, culled from his speeches, homilies or catechism lessons.
The @Pontifex English account remains the most popular, nearing 800,000 followers. The pope is tweeting simultaneously in Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Polish and Arabic, and all eight languages combined surpassed the one million mark right around the time of his first tweet.
As there always is with news, there are two opinions on the Pope getting a Twitter. One welcomes the account and the Vatican’s embracement of social media. The other side thinks it is unnecessary for him to have a Twitter account because of the criticism and hate-filled tweets that some people are bound to (and already have started to) send to the account. "The pope has an iPad?" comedian Jon Stewart asked earlier this year. The Onion satirical newspaper ran a piece "Pope tweets picture of self with God." And in perhaps a more long-term and problematic issue for the Vatican, the @Pontifex handle was flooded with negative messages from users remarking on the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Vatican officials have stressed that he is merely walking in the footsteps of his predecessors in using the latest in communications technology to spread the faith.
Pope Pius XI caused a similar stir when he launched Vatican Radio some 80 years ago to bring the pope's message on radio waves around the globe. The Vatican also has its own newspaper, television service and maintains dedicated YouTube channels and an Internet news portal.Even though there is some controversy, the gist I get about the Pope joining Twitter is a positive one. Just like celebrities, people and Twitter users are thrilled at the opportunity to connect to the pope. It’s just another stepping stone emphasizing the important presence of Twitter – it clearly makes a big enough impact to draw in global figures such the pope.