.- The number of people following Pope Benedict XVI on Twitter has increased 400 percent over the last 24 hours.
On Feb. 23 his account had 2,500 subscribers, but today that figure is at more than 12,500 and is rising.
“It is quite incredible,” said Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, to CNA on Feb. 24.
“And not just the numbers who are now following the Pope’s Tweets but also the number who are then re-Tweeting his message to others. It’s great.”
The dramatic upsurge in interest in the Pope’s Twitter presence coincided with the beginning of Lent on Feb. 22.
On that day, Vatican officials began Tweeting part of the Pope’s Lenten message, an innovation they will continue every day until Easter.
Twitter is an online social networking site that enables users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters. Anyone can sign up to follow the Pope, whose messages are tweeted in English, Italian, Spanish, German and French, via @Pope2YouVatican. Soon they will also be available in Portuguese.
“It’s an important initiative for evangelization and evangelization through communication,” Fr. Paolo Padrini, the coordinator of Pope2You, told CNA.
“The initiative puts the Pope in contact with the people of God and in particular with young people, because Pope2You was created mainly for young people.”
Wednesday’s message told followers; “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.” Today’s Tweet explained how Lent is “a time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments.”
Msgr. Tighe says his boss at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, got it right when he said Twitter is like “a small mustard seed that once scattered grows into bushes where birds can rest.”
The Lenten Twitter campaign is the latest attempt by the Vatican to make the most of social communications.
In June 2011, the social communications council also unveiled an online news service, www.news.va, which Pope Benedict launched with a Tweet. The site now has over 10,000 people using it every day.