While there are those who call the church behind the times, there's one point in which they're quite caught up: social networking. They're sufficiently caught up, in fact, now that the Pope has a Twitter (News - Alert) handle. The Vatican announced earlier today that those interested in keeping up with the Pope's 140-character thoughts on things can follow him with the @pontifex handle.
The Vatican reportedly considered a wide array of other potential Twitter handles before settling on @pontifex, including one group interested in @BenedictusPPXVI, but it was eventually decided that it should be more about the office and less about the man. The pope is set to start tweeting December 12, and the papal tweets will be spiritual in nature, updating on his own schedule, so those interested in the Pope's next Powerball picks will likely come away disappointed.
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Perhaps best of all, the Pope will take questions from the general Twitter community via the hashtag #askpontifex, opening up the opportunity for people to get a little spiritual guidance. Tweets will go out in several languages--from Spanish and English to Polish and Arabic--and will regularly focus on the contents of his earlier messages, like the weekly general audience and holiday homilies.
Though the Pope may not be sending many of the tweets himself--he will be pushing the buttons on the first one, however--Vatican officials were quick to note that all the words would be those of the Pope, even if the tweets themselves were actually filed by aides and the like.
This isn't the Vatican's first foray into social networking, a phenomenon which it has issued a very qualified acceptance --it managed to refer to social networking as both a "great opportunity" and a risk for "depersonalization, alienation, self-indulgence" and the surprising danger of "having more virtual friends than real ones"--and started to embrace back in 2009 with the launch of a papal Facebook (News - Alert) section and a video library of previous speeches by the Pope.
It's good to see the Vatican take advantage of all the tools out there, though it's easy to disagree with both the content and the motives behind the same. There will doubtless be plenty of users who find a note of solace in the tweets, and that would certainly be a help for many. The name selection was certainly a smart move as it will prove much more reusable than a tag (News - Alert) focused on the current Pope rather than the papacy in general, though whether or not Twitter will outlive the current Pope remains to be seen.
Keeping up with the points of access that those members of the church already use will prove helpful for them as well, and a church being helpful to its parishioners is a church doing its job.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman