Pope blesses followers in first tweet

Twitter sends social manager to Rome to help the Vatican with its social media presence

Pope Benedict XVI used his first tweet to bless the approximately 648,000 people who followed him before he had even made his first Twitter appearance.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI posts his first tweet using an iPad on Wednesday at the Vatican. (Photo: Giampiero Sposito / Reuters)

Using an Apple iPad, the pope launched his Twitter presence with seven tweets Wednesday, even answering a few questions sent to him via the #askpontifex hashtag.

"Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart," the Pope said in his first tweet.

As of noon ET on Wednesday, the pope had more than 800,000 followers for his English Twitter account and more than a million followers, including accounts in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.

The pope himself is not writing the Twitter messages, but he reportedly will approve them all before they are sent.

Benedict joins a growing list of world leaders and celebrities who have added their voices to Twitter, including President Barack Obama, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told Vatican Radio that the pope joined Twitter, not to gain online popularity, but to reach the faithful in a modern medium.

"The Holy Father is not looking for popularity. This doesn't correspond to a pope and it doesn't correspond to the style of Pope Benedict XVI," Celli told Vatican Radio. "I think he is choosing a way to be present where people are. ... The peculiarity of the new technologies is to create an environment where people are living and in such a milieu we have to announce the Gospel, to announce Jesus. We have to be there!"

Twitter even lent a hand to the pope, sending Claire Diaz-Ortiz , Twitter's manager of social innovation, to the Vatican to help get the pontiff started.

Diaz-Ortiz tweeted about her experience from the room where the Pope Benedict was sending his first tweets.

"The Pope now giving his message. Thank you, Stanford University, for teaching me (bad) Italian," she tweeted. Later she added, "I see @cardinalsean (O'malley) in the audience, sitting in front of Archbishop Celli. He's a great Twitter example for religious leaders."

For his first day on Twitter, the pontiff focused on answering a few questions.

"Any suggestions on how to be more prayerful when we are so busy with the demands of work, families and the world?" was one tweeted question.

The pope responded by tweeting, "Offer everything you do to the Lord, ask his help in all the circumstances of daily life and remember that he is always beside you."

While many of the questions sent to the pope were about faith and issues such as poverty, others were more topical.

For instance, SouthrnCatholic asked in a tweet, "@Pontifex when will Bl. John Paul II be canonized? #askpontifex"

And @rockinnbehr asked, "Dear pontifex: US Congress may decimate services that aid the poor. You say creating poverty is a sin -- what to do? #askpontifex #fiscalcliff"

Others, though, weren't as serious.

One question came from @FoldsOfFlab, asking, "@Pontifex What's your gamertag? You have the look of a seasoned CoDsman. #askpontifex" (A player of Call of Duty)

And @nelitonma tweeted, "#askpontifex Holy Santity... I'm a teacher and sometimes I want to throw my students on boiling lava. Is this a sin?"

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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