Pope expected to have 1 million Twitter followers by launch

Pope Lights Electronic Christmas Tree Credit LOsservatore Romano Vatican Pool Getty Images News Getty Images CNA Vatican Catholic News 12 6 12 Pope Benedict XVI lights one of the largest electronic Christmas trees in Gubbio using a tablet device December 7, 2011. | L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications is expecting one million total followers in eight languages when Pope Benedict issues his first tweet on Dec. 12.

"It's not unreasonable to think we'll have reached one million followers by the day of the launch," said Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

"Then, on that day it's likely they'll tweet, which will bring even more people on board," he told CNA Dec. 6.

The current rate at which people are following Pope Benedict's new @pontifex handle on Twitter is astonishing.

As of Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. Rome time, the Pope had 700,000 followers and about 10,000 new people were adding him to their list per hour the previous day.

Out of the eight languages, the English account has the highest number with over 500,000, which is followed by the Spanish account with nearly 120,000. Pope Benedict will also be tweeting in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Polish and Portuguese.

"We're never going to judge this by numbers, but we're very pleased by the people that have already been signing up, and we're expecting to have a good base by Wednesday," Msgr. Tighe remarked.

"But it's really about the quality of the engagement," he added.

He will write his first tweet after next week's general audience and that will be followed by a question-and-answer session on faith.

But Pope Benedict, who usually gives long speeches on Catholic teaching, will face the challenge of not exceeding 140 characters.

Msgr. Tighe noted that "we've had some negative responses, but we're not worried about that."

"This is all part of a strategy that the Church has to take part in social media to communicate the good news, and this is going to be the tip of the iceberg," he said.

The Vatican already uses YouTube and text messages to reach a younger audience.

It will also soon launch a new mobile application for smartphones, available for free on iTunes, as well as produce e-books.

"The Pope is going to do just like the Gospel reading that talks about the man who scatters the seeds," said Msgr. Tighe, referring to the day's Mass reading.

"Some will scatter and get blown away not having any effect at all, but others will take roots and grow," he added.

According to the Irish priest, this is going to engage people and take some of them by surprise, which will hopefully get them to ask questions and eventually draw them closer to the Gospel.

More in Vatican

"The Pope is simply going to use this to get the Gospel out in a world that is deprived of love," he said.

After the Pope issues his first tweet next Wednesday, Vatican aides will write the tweets for him, but he will still approve them.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.