Pope to spread the message on Twitter as @pontifex

 

He might now be on Twitter but there is little chance Pope Benedict XVI is about to become one of those iPhone-obsessed people who sit through meetings spending more time checking email than listening to those around them.

Or so the Holy See’s media adviser, Greg Burke, was keen to inform us at a Vatican news conference yesterday, held to launch if not the oldest tweeter in town certainly the most important. At the age of 85, the pope is about to be launched into the brave new world of social networking, complete with the official handle of “@pontifex”.

Presenting the initiative, Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, pointed out that some 140 million people currently use Twitter. Of those, nearly 40 per cent, he said, are in the 16-24 age group. “We want to use Twitter to reach out to these young people.”

Burke summed up the initiative in realpolitik terms, saying: “This is a new market for ideas and the church should be there . . . This is not the only way [to spread the Catholic Church’s message] but it is a very useful one, and it’s costeffective and not labour-intensive.”

So how will it work? Seldom, at first. Do not expect a new tweet from the pope every half hour: it will be more like once a week, if that. However, the Vatican team yesterday was keen to guarantee one fundamental: any tweets from the pope would be genuine. While the pope clearly will not be sitting down to type out his thoughts in 140 characters, he will oversee every tweet and they will have “his engagement and his approval”.

Archbishop Celli said condensing the pope’s thoughts into 140 characters will prove something of a “challenge” but said the Twitter process offered the pope a “wonderful opportunity to share his nuggets of wisdom”.

The pope will begin tweeting on December 12th, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when he will answer some of the questions sent to #askpontifex about faith and belief.

From then on it will be a matter of watching @pontifex but initial tweets are expected to come around the time of his Wednesday public audiences.

For now, the pope will tweet in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish and Arabic.