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Pope Benedict XVI opens Twitter account, has thousands of followers without a tweet

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 10:05 p.m. MST

In this June 28, 2011 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI touches a touchpad to send a tweet for the launch of the Vatican news information portal "www.news.va", at the Vatican. The Vatican said Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, that Pope Benedict XVI will start tweeting in six languages from his own personal handle (at)Pontifex, on Dec. 12. The pontiff will be using a question and answer format in his first Tweet, focusing on answering questions about faith — in 140 characters.

AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, File

Pope Benedict XVI has opened a Twitter account — and a mobile app and e-books aren't are far behind for the Vatican.

In a packed news conference Monday, Vatican officials made the announcement that the pontiff will tweet in eight languages starting Dec. 12 using the handle @Pontifex.

The pope, who still writes in longhand on paper, won't key in the tweets himself, but he will approve the weekly responses to questions about the faith. Vatican officials described the tweets as "pearls of wisdom" and not infallible statements, news reports said.

"Within six hours of the Vatican's announcement, Benedict had already garnered nearly 150,000 followers on the English version of (at)Pontifex alone, with thousands more following him in the eight other language accounts," the Associated Press reported.

And he hadn't yet sent a tweet.

CNN reported that the pontiff actually tweeted in June 2011 to launch the Vatican's news site www.news.va. He wrote, “Dear friends, I just launched News.va. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.”

"That signature had led some to guess that @BenedictusPPXVI would be the account name for the 85-year-old pope's personal account, although @Pope would have been fitting as well. (Benedictus PP XVI is the pontiff's signature in Latin, with the 'PP' standing for papa, the Latin word for pope.)

"With @Pontifex, which means 'bridge builder' in Latin, the pope chose a handle with another name for the office he holds."

During the press conference, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Vatican department for communications, also announced that the Vatican will soon launch a new mobile app for smartphones and will start producing its own e-books.

Religion News Service reported that the app will be submitted to Apple for approval next week and should be available for free on iTunes be year's end.

"According to Gustavo Entrala, CEO of the Spanish firm 101 that developed the app together with the Vatican, 'The Pope App' will allow Catholics to follow papal Masses and events in real time, and to peek inside the Vatican through webcams. Entrala said an Android version is also in the works."

Greg Burke, a former Fox News journalist who is now a senior Vatican adviser for communications, told RNS that Twitter is an example of the “new market of ideas.”

“The church has to be there," he said. "We want to use any method to spread the message.”

Other religious leaders such as the Dalia Lama (@DalaiLama), Rick Warren (@RickWarren) and Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) have had success in using Twitter to spread their messages.

A Twitter spokeswoman told CNN that religious leaders “punch above their weight” on the social networking site.

“An average religious leader has a rate of about 1 RT (retweet) for every 500 followers, while a musician on Twitter would get one RT for every 30,000 followers,” said spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz.

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