Pope Benedict XVI has joined the world of Twitter in hopes of spreading Catholicism through social media. The pope will tweet under the username @pontifex, which is Latin for “pope” and “bridge builder.” This initiative to incorporate technology with scripture may be an indication of the Catholic Church’s evolution.
The first tweets will be launched on December 12, in a Q & A session with followers. Twitter users will use #askpontifex to send their questions to the pope. The pope will be broadcasting his tweets in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Polish and Arabic, all while getting his point across in 140 characters or less. The Twitter account already has upwards of 75,000 followers.
"We are going to get a spiritual message," said Vatican media adviser Greg Burke "The Pope is not going to be walking around with a Blackberry or an iPad and no one is going to be putting words into the Pope's mouth. He will tweet what he wants to tweet."
The pope will also use Twitter to tweet messages about his Sunday homilies, as well blessings on Church holidays. Many would like to imagine the 85-year-old pontiff will be feverishly tweeting at his computer, but his advisers will send the majority of tweets after he signs off on them first.
The official papal twitter account is not the first effort the Vatican has made to participate in social media. The Vatican already has an official twitter with over 100,000 followers, and also launched a Facebook page for former pope John Paul II. YouTube has also been an important resource to broadcast papal messages.
While @pontifex may reach more potential believers and nonbelievers, the youth in particular will be targeted. However, using 140 characters to convey important messages about faith and life is hardly ideal. Using this type of platform can make the messages very impersonal and could potentially backfire.
In an address the pope made last year, he discussed the importance of preserving one's character when online:
"The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive.”
It is clear that the social media efforts are indicative of the Catholic Church adapting to a new age. While it remains to be seen what if any impact the Vatican's embrace of social media has, its willingness to use 21st century technology to spread its message may bode well for the future of the church.