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@Pontifex, 140-letter salvation

Pope Benedict XVI

Dec. 3: Brevity, thou art blessed.

Pope Benedict XVI, known for his hefty volumes of theology, is now trying to spread the faith through his own Twitter account.

The pontiff will tweet in eight languages starting December 12 using his personal handle @Pontifex, responding live to questions about faith during his weekly general audience, the Vatican said today.

The pope, one of the world’s most visible leaders, already has 1.2 billion “followers” in the standard sense of the word but next week, he will have another type when he enters what for any 85-year-old is the brave new world of Twitter.

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. Subsequent tweets are expected to remain spiritual in nature, taken from his teachings or homilies.

“Reducing the pope’s message to 140 characters is definitely a challenge but we have seen that a profound thought can also be expressed in a brief Biblical passage,” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican’s communications commission, said.

Within four hours of the announcement, Benedict had already garnered 100,000 followers on the English version of @Pontifex alone. He may never hit 1 billion faithful that the Catholic Church counts around the globe, but he’s odds-on to get 1 million followers by the end of the year, British bookmakers Ladbrokes said.

Greg Burke, the Vatican’s communications adviser, said the handle @)Pontifex was chosen because it not only means pope in Latin, but also bridge-builder, suggesting unity.

Among the other handles that Vatican officials had reportedly considered was @BenedictusPPXVI, but they opted for something that was linked to the office of the papacy.

Don’t expect tweets about how the pope is feeling or which soccer team he is praying to win a derby. The papal tweets will be spiritual, Burke said.

How often will the pope tweet? “As often as he wants,” Burke said.

Even though Benedict is not the kind of person who walks around with a Blackberry or iPad, Burke said: “All the pope’s tweets are the pope’s words. Nobody is going to be putting words into his mouth.”

While the pope will push the button himself on December 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.

The tweets will be going out in Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Arabic and French. Other languages will be added in the future.

Primarily the tweets will come from the contents of his weekly general audience, Sunday blessings and homilies on major Church holidays. They will also include reaction to major world events.

But while the pope will be one of the world’s most high-profile tweeters and have many followers, he will not be following anyone himself. “This is the new market of ideas and the Church has to be there. We want to use any method to spread the message. It’s cost-effective and not very labour intensive and it is aimed at young people,” Burke said.

A host of Twitter accounts now use the pope’s name. The @)Pontifex account, however, is certified as the only official papal Twitter feed. Only one computer in the Vatican’s secretariat of state will be used for the tweets.

The pope’s Twitter page is designed in yellow and white —the colours of the Vatican, with a backdrop of the Vatican and his picture.

 
 
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