Miss the opportunity to catch the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his weekly Papal Audience during your last trip to Rome? Fret not, dear reader, your chance to catch up with His Holiness has arrived: and you don’t even have to leave your own chair. Starting two days ago, the Pope will be tweeting his messages to the world in 140 characters or less, using the handle @pontifex.
The date and time of the Twitter debut seems hardly a coincidence. The day holds significance in the Catholic calendar as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a saint that Pope John Paul II declared the mother of evangelization to the New World. And in this day and age, “the New World” might just mean the internet. In addition, Wednesday’s introductory tweet curiously fell before the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of the 21st century (the numbers might be switched on this one, but they still flow with the theme). Although I wouldn’t peg the Pope as a suspicious man, was he perhaps hoping for the good vibes the day was predicted to bring? Either way, one day of tweeting resulted in over 1,000,000 followers…not quite Ashton Kutcher, but not bad either.
The first words (get it?) of the 85-year-old pope did not lack the pomp and circumstance expected from the usual events put on by the Holy See. Crowds remained in St. Peter’s Square after the usual Wednesday Papal Audience, eyes fixed in anticipation on the Vatican‘s tele-projectors, while the Pope, robed in white, sat upon his high-backed comfy throne. A tablet – not the Moses kind – was presented and laid on the red cloth decking the table. The announcement came, “Ed ora, il Santo Padre invierà il suo primo tweet” (“and now the Holy Father will send his first tweet”) and several assistants hurriedly gathered to aide @pontifex as he made his debut with a simple tweet: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.” Watch it yourself in this clip of the monumental occasion:
In selection of languages in which to tweet, the Vatican wasn’t entirely catholic – it picked 8 popular tongues for sending its messages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Polish and Arabic. The Vatican hopes to eventually add Chinese to the mix, as well. The language selection, particularly that of Arabic, goes hand in hand with the choice of the handle @pontifex, Latin for “bridge,” and suggests the Vatican hopes to bridge the gap between it and the worlds of others, perhaps even that between the Arabic-speaking world. Similarly, the selection of whom to follow doesn’t leave much room for those hoping to attract His Holiness’ attention. Each of Benedict XVI’s language accounts has chosen to follow exactly 7 other accounts: his own.
Although the first official day of tweeting was action-packed, December 13 and so far the 14 have proved to be a bit of a dud for those awaiting further pearls of wisdom. Perhaps this is because the Pope himself will not be sending any more on his own tweets, but will approve those devised by Vatican staff. Why this is might have something to do with the fact that besides having a few other engagements in his days, the process to learn how to send a tweet does not seem itself to have been a fast one. Watch this video of Benedict XVI sending a tweet last June – considering its similarity to the one above, I’d guess his time doesn’t quite get dedicated to quickly learning how to best use social media.
That day in June 2011 was another special occasion: it was the Pope’s first use of the iPad and falls in a line of milestones in which the 2,000-year-old organization makes strides to catch up with the technological times. Other dates of technological note are: 1995 when the Vatican website was launched, on which Pope John Paul II placed his sermons and other messages; 1946 when Pope Pius XII appeared on television; and 1931 when Pope Pius XI made history with the first papal radio broadcast.
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