Fifty years ago, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council. With it, he famously opened the windows of the Church and allowed the radiant light of Christ to shine forth and scatter the darkness of a world marred by two World Wars, the Holocaust and the upheavals brought about by political, social, economic, and technological change in the 20th century.
Within the space of 140 characters, Pope Benedict XVI sought to continue this effort. On Dec. 12, the Holy Father sent his first tweet out into the digital continent from his new Twitter account, @Pontifex: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”
(For the uninitiated, Twitter is a popular social networking service that enables its users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters, known as “tweets.”)
With a tap on his iPad, the windows of the Church were once again opened — this time to allow a new generation of digital dwellers to experience the light of Christ. Within days of his first tweet, more than 1.7 million people began following the pope on Twitter, with Twitter users submitting tens of thousands of questions for the Holy Father (using the #AskPontifex hashtag). He personally answered three of them Dec. 12:
Q: How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?
A: By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need.
Q: How can faith in Jesus be lived in a world without hope?
A: We can be certain that a believer is never alone. God is the solid rock upon which we build our lives and his love is always faithful
Q: Any suggestions on how to be more prayerful when we are so busy with the demands of work, families and the world?
A: Offer everything you do to the Lord, ask his help in all the circumstances of daily life and remember that he is always beside you.
It should not have come as a surprise that the Holy Father has taken to Twitter. For years now he has been emphasizing the need to engage the digital culture in his annual message for World Communications Day. In 2009 he urged Catholics to take advantage of the new trends in digital communication to further a culture based on respect, dialogue and friendship. In 2010 he called upon priests to “discover new possibilities for carrying out their ministry to and for the Word of God” using new technologies. And in 2011, the Holy Father exhorted Catholics to lead a life of authenticity in service to the Gospel not only in the physical world, but in the digital realm too.
So, it makes sense that Pope Benedict would join the hundreds of millions of us in the social sphere. This is particularly relevant as it relates to carrying forward with the New Evangelization — a rededication to our missionary focus of proclaiming the Gospel — and as we delve deeper into this Year of Faith. (No, he won’t compose all of the tweets coming from his @Pontifex handle, unfortunately, but his aides say that the pope will indeed approve each message.)
This Twitter initiative is significant because it gives everyday citizens of the world (read you and me) a direct line to the Holy Father. It allows Christ’s saving message to be seen, shared and discussed by millions of people who otherwise may not have had the opportunity prior. This is the opening of a new window to the world, one in which Christ’s radiant light will undoubtedly shape a new, more plugged-in generation of Catholics.
We’re following @Pontifex on Twitter and so should you.