VATICAN CITY – Benedict XVI, the pope known for his hefty volumes of theology, is now trying brevity – spreading the faith through his own Twitter account.
The pontiff will tweet in eight languages starting Dec. 12 using his personal handle @Pontifex, responding live to questions about faith during his weekly general audience, the Vatican said Monday.
Within six hours of the Vatican’s announcement, Benedict had already garnered nearly 150,000 followers on the English version of @Pontifex alone, with thousands more following him in the eight other language accounts.
The pope sent his first tweet last year from a generic Vatican account to launch the Holy See’s news information portal, part of efforts to increase the church presence in social media and spread the faith. A personal Twitter account for Benedict has been the subject of intense speculation ever since; Monday’s news conference was packed, a strong indication of the interest it has generated.
Greg Burke, the Vatican’s communications adviser, said the handle @Pontifex was chosen because it means not only pope in Latin, but also bridge-builder, suggesting unity. How often will the pope tweet? As often as he wants, Burke said, adding that he hoped the tweeting would be frequent.
While the pope will push the button himself Dec. 12, 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 No. 2 in the Vatican’s social communications office. Not physically, but from his mind.
Questions for the inaugural papal tweet can be submitted to #askpontifex, and the pope will likely respond to three to five of those sent from around the world, Burke said. Subsequent tweets are expected to remain spiritual in nature, taken from his teachings or homilies.