“We cannot think of a Church without joy. This is the joy of the Church: announcing to all the name of Jesus,” tweeted Pope Francis on Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the one-year anniversary of the papal presence on Twitter.
The popular social media network allows users to publish messages of 140 characters or fewer. It boasts more than 230 million active monthly users across the globe.
The official “Pontifex” Twitter accounts were launched last December by Benedict XVI, who amassed some 2.5 million followers during his first month and built a following of several million before his resignation at the end of February this year.
Pope Francis continued his predecessor’s practice of sending short messages reflecting on Jesus and the Christian life after his March 13 election to the papacy. His tweets include prayers and short passages from his homilies.
The papal Twitter accounts have accumulated a total of more than 10.7 million followers. The Spanish-language account is the most popular one, with more than 4.3 million followers. The English-language account comes in second, with some 3.3 million followers.
Papal Twitter accounts have also been established in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Latin, Portuguese and most recently, Polish.
In July, Pope Francis was named “the most influential world leader on Twitter” according to a global communications report by Switzerland-based public relation and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.
The report found that Pope Francis’ Spanish-language tweets were re-tweeted an average of 11,116 times. His English-language tweets were re-tweeted by an average of 8,219 followers.
His closest competitor by this measure was U.S. President Barack Obama, whose tweets were re-tweeted on average 2,309 times.
The Pope is also the second most-followed world leader on Twitter, after President Obama, who has 40 million followers.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, pointed to the Pope’s use of Twitter as an inspiration and example of using new media to serve the Gospel message.
Speaking with journalist Carlo Melato in an interview for the Italian publication Tracce, the archbishop praised the decision of both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis to continue with the Twitter account despite insults and criticism.
He explained that evangelization requires a willingness to be insulted, just as Jesus faced revile on the Cross.
“Today the Lord's disciples must ask themselves how they can be a presence and what language to use according to the different instruments, from traditional to the most innovative,” the archbishop stressed.
He pointed to a need for the “active presence” of Christians to proclaim the Gospel on the internet, adding however, that this “does not mean that the traditional instruments lose meaning.”
One year after the official opening of the papal Twitter account, Pope Francis invited his nearly 11 million followers on the social media site to remember the joy that characterizes the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis, Twitter, Pontifex