Category: World / December 3, 2012 12:09 PM EST
Pope Benedict may already have 1.2 billion "followers" in the standard sense of the word but next week, the Vatican said on Monday (December 3), he will have another, virtual, type when he enters the brave new world of Twitter.
The 85-year-old pope will start tweeting on December 12, the feast of the Madonna of Guadalupe, the Vatican said.
"The Twitter handle is @pontifex. It's a good name I think. It means 'pope' and it means 'bridge builder' at the same time. It suggests unity, the pope united not only with Catholics but also with all men and women of good will," said Greg Burke, senior media advisor to the Vatican.
The first papal tweets will be answers to questions sent to #askpontifex.
The tweets will be going out in Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Arabic and French. Other languages will be added in the future.
"How often will the pope tweet? The answer to that is as often as the pope wants, we'll see. It is going to be regular and I hope it increases over time. Stay tuned is the answer to that. What will the pope tweet about? Whatever the pope wants to tweet about, but it is the pope, of course, it is going to be a spiritual message that we are going to be getting," said Burke.
Primarily the tweets will come from the contents of the pope's weekly general audience, Sunday blessings and homilies on major Church holidays. They will also include reaction to major world events, such as natural disasters.
Benedict will be sending his first tweet himself on December 12, but in the future most will be written by aides, and he will sign them off before they are sent in his name.
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.
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. It may change during different liturgical seasons of the year and when the pope is away from the Vatican on trips.
"If the Queen of England can do a film with James Bond, I think the Pope can be on Twitter. He just wants to get the message out. It's a way to get the message out, that is part of his job. He is speaking a lot already. He is writing a whole lot. Part of his job is get out the message, get out the good news. This is a really good way to do it," said Burke.
The Vatican said precautions had been taken to make sure the pope's certified account is not hacked. Only one computer in the Vatican's secretariat of state will be used for the tweets.
The pope, who still writes his speeches and books by hand, has given a qualified blessing to social networking.
In a document issued last year, he said the possibilities of new media and social networks offered "a great opportunity", but warned of the risks of depersonalisation, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers of having more virtual friends than real ones.
In 2009, a new Vatican website, www.pope2you.net, went live, offering an application called "The pope meets you on Facebook", and another allowing the faithful to see the pontiff's speeches and messages on their iPads, iPhones or iPods.