No man is an island or can at least remain one if he is leading a flock of 1.2 billion followers. On Monday, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI is befriending the blue Twitter bird under the handle @pontifex, a term for the Pope that means bridge-builder in Latin. As expected, within hours, there was a surge of followers clicking on ‘follow’ and by the end of the day, he had more than 250,000 of them. Lucky man, considering mere mortals like us find it difficult to cobble together even 50 followers. However, be assured that the 85-year-old Pope is not going to re-tweet other’s posts or make funny comments on them. A dedicated team has been put in place to do the mundane job of posting tweets while the pontiff will carry on pontificating on things theological from the confines of Vatican City.
Pope Benedict’s posts will go out in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. The messages will mostly feature the contents of the Pope’s speeches as well as homilies on major religious holidays and reactions to major events. All of the Pope’s tweets, we have been told gravely, will be in his own words. So dismiss them at your own peril. To its credit, it must be said that the Vatican has always been in the forefront of the technology revolution, if not the social revolution: according to New York Times, in 1896, Pope Leo XIII became the first pope to appear on film. In 1931, Vatican Radio was founded, and Pope Pius XI was the first pope to make a radio broadcast. In 1949, Pope Pius XII was the first to appear on TV.
The Pope has shown the way and the heads of other religions must learn from him how to embrace technology and give a new meaning to the term ‘followers’.