Pope Benedict XVI will extend his online presence to Twitter and start answering questions put to him via the social network in English and seven other languages.
The official Papal handle is @pontifex, the Vatican announced on Monday, adding that the pope can be followed in English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Arabic and French. "Pope Tweets from his own handle will begin 12 December, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe," the Vatican said in a news release.
The Pope will respond to questions put to him about faith and belief by Twitter users using the #askpontifex hashtag. Questions will be answered in all listed languages. Other languages may be added in the future, the Vatican said.
"The Pope's presence on Twitter can be seen as the 'tip of the iceberg' that is the Church's presence in the world of new media," the Vatican stated, adding that the pontiff's presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the church must be present in the digital arena.
The Vatican announced in January that the Pope would turn to Twitter. The Vatican already had a presence on YouTube after setting up a channel in 2009, and in 2010 the Pope called on priests to adopt social media and start blogging to spread the word of God. The Pope's presence on Twitter is ultimately an endorsement of the efforts of these priests and other "early adopters" such as individual believers, institutions and communities, the Vatican said.
The Vatican couldn't immediately respond to a request for comment but it said in January that although the Pope will not always personally handle sending messages, he will always approve them.
Twitter users are immediately taking the opportunity to ask the Pope questions, some more serious than others. One Twitter user asked for example: "Could God conjure up a rock so big even he couldn't lift it?," while another asks: "Who would win in a fight between Jesus Christ and Wolverine?." Yet another user said: "Hey, @Pontifex: Will I get excommunicated if I block you on Twitter? Sincerely, A. #askpontifex."
But another a more serious user asked: "What can teenagers reference to learn more about how to understand suffering in order to not loose (sic) faith in God?"
The Pope will initially address Twitter users on Wednesdays, the same day as his general audiences take place, but his Twitter messages could become more frequent, the Vatican said.
Within four hours of the announcement, the Pope had more than 60,000 followers of his English account. The @pontifex account, however, follows only the Pope's accounts in the announced languages. The French account that was announced by the Vatican, @pontifex_fr, was temporarily suspended by Twitter but seems to be back online.
Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org