(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI will be launching a new Twitter account at his weekly general audience next week and you can watch it happening live around midday, Rome time, on Wednesday December 12th. This latest new media initiative was presented at a press conference with members of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications on Monday – Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen went along to find out more……
“In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated – as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.”
Those were Pope Benedict’s words in this year’s Message for World Communications Day. Now he himself will be tweeting some of those concise phrases – less than 140 characters to be precise – to try and share the Good News of Christ with those seeking answers to life’s key questions on their computers, ipads, tablets or smartphones.
Figures show over 500 million people now have Twitter accounts and at least a quarter of them are using it as their main means of daily communication. Before December 12th they can send questions to the Pope on issues of faith, some of which he’ll try and answer with his first tweets that you can watch in real time during his general audience that day. The account goes live in eight languages to start with and the official name or handle for English language users is simply @pontifex (with #askpontifex if you want to send in a question of faith).
But why did the Twitter company work so hard with the Vatican to help launch this new papal account? A question I put to the Twitter’s director of social innovation, Claire Diaz Ortiz:
“As a company it’s important for us to have influential leaders and the Pope is perhaps the most important religious leader in the world who’s joining our platform. We’ve seen great work done by other religious leaders in terms of what it means to reach so many people, so we’re eager and hopeful the Pope will be able to connect with believers and non-believers alike”
Of course you can read, hear and watch the Pope speaking in many other online ways already, but according to the techies Twitter is the easiest, most cost effective way of reaching the largest numbers of people today. Although Benedict himself won’t be worrying about the technicalities and won’t be seen regularly checking his account, he will be selecting the messages to tweet and he does see it as a vital way of promoting a more personal and active dialogue of faith with men and women today. Mgr Paul Tighe is secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications:
“I think symbolically this is very important, this is the head of the Church going into a new digital arena to share his words and ideas….it’s an encouragement to those already present using Twitter and other forms of social media to reach an even wider group of people….
When the Holy Father is working on sermons or talks he’ll give explicit attention to how to formulate a shorter message that will be tweeted in his name, maybe with the longer Url attached….it’s really an entry level of engagement….. “