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The pope joins the twitterverse as @pontifex

The Vatican is trying to reach out to an increasingly Internet-savvy audience and has already established a presence on YouTube and Facebook.

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The initiative proved spectacularly successful on its first day, before the pope had even sent his first tweet – within hours he had more than 130,000 followers, with bookmakers like Ladbrokes predicting that he would reach the 1 million mark by Christmas.

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Despite his newfound enthusiasm for new media, the pope will not succumb to the sort of obsession that strains relationships and workplaces around the world, officials said.

“The pope is not the kind of person who, when they are in a meeting or at lunch, looks at his BlackBerry to see if there are new messages. He’s not walking around with an iPad,” said Greg Burke, the Vatican’s media consultant.

The pope is unlikely to follow other Twitter users and will not be engaging in debate with people who send him messages.

His tweets will be confined to matters of faith and Christian theology.

“Twitter is a new market of ideas and the church needs to be there. It’s cost-effective, it’s not very labor intensive, and it connects with young people,” said Mr. Burke, a former Fox News correspondent in Rome who was hired to improve the Vatican’s media strategy earlier this year.

New handle: @pontifex

The "handle" apparently chosen by Pope Benedict XVI, @pontifex, evokes his role as a bridge between the church and more than 1 billion Roman Catholics around the world.

Like any Twitter user, the pope will be exposed to potential insults and abuse. “It’s a platform built on open information. I think the truth, the positivity will rise to the top, but there are risks when you come on board,” said Claire Diaz-Ortiz, a representative from Twitter.

Pope Benedict will not type his tweets himself – that will be done by a communications team – but he will approve every message.  

“Every tweet will have been personally seen and approved by the pope. They will be pearls of wisdom coming from the heart of his teaching,” said Monsignor Tighe.

Archbishop Celli said the pope's tweets were not infallible. "It is not dogma – it is more like the pope having a conversation," he told a packed press conference in the Vatican.


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