Pope Benedict’s assault on the social media sphere was gathering pace tonight, with the number of followers of his new Twitter account soaring into six figures within hours of its launch.
He will not begin tweeting to the world until 12 December, but the conservative, 85-year-old pontiff has already started trending, the Vatican announced.
An introductory message read: “Welcome to the official Twitter page of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.”
“The Pope’s presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena,” the Vatican added in a statement. It said the Pope wanted “to ensure that the good news of Jesus Christ and the teaching of his Church is permeating the forum of exchange and dialogue that is being created by social media”.
It stressed that the papal tweets were not to be considered infallible teachings, but merely “pearls of wisdom” in the Pope’s own words.
The tweets will be in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish and more languages could be added in future.
Greg Burke, the Vatican’s communications adviser, said the handle @Pontifex was chosen as it means pope and bridge-builder in Latin.
Mr Burke said the Pope would tweet “as often as he wants”. But although Benedict will push the return key for the first time 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.
The Vatican has been increasing its presence in social media, using YouTube channels and Facebook pages for special events and Twitter in its efforts to engage believers and non-believers alike, particularly the young.