The Pope soon will increase his following worldwide on a popular social networking website.
On Dec. 12, Pope Benedict XVI will start tweeting from his very own Twitter handle — @Pontifex — answering questions about faith from his more than 500,000 followers.
He will tweet in French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Polish, Italian and English and, according to The New York Times, he won’t follow any other users.
The term “pontifex” means not only Pope in Latin, but bridge builder as well, which St. John’s Student Parish Campus Minister Katie Diller said signifies the Catholic religious leader’s intentions on the site.
“We use the term ‘new evangelization,’” Diller said. “That’s essentially reaching out to new generations … Most importantly, (it means) the Pope is trying to reach out to all Christians.”
Since the Pope is reaching out to people worldwide, making sure the high-profile religious leader keeps up with the Twitter account could be a challenge, said Frank Ravitch, professor of law and Walter H. Stowers chair of Law and Religion.
Although the Pope’s name is on the account, he might receive help from his aides, but he will personally tweet as he sees fit, according to The New York Times.
Another challenge, Diller said, is Twitter’s open invitation for hostility and argument, which can be common on religious social media.
Twitter already suspended a Pope parody account, @RealPontifex.
“When you have something as personal as religion, people can be carried away,” Diller said. “Religion calls them first and foremost to be charitable, but almost everyone on an online forum can be (affected) by the freedom of anonymity. If you can write freely, you can write nastily as well.”
But Diller said technology is something the church has been utilizing since the holy days, and its parchment beginnings have translated into clergymen, churches and religious organizations embracing Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.
“St. Paul was using the hottest social media of his day, and that was writing letters,” Diller said. “Monks were handwriting Bibles until the Gutenberg press, then we turned toward newspapers. … Wherever communication is, the Catholic church will be.”
Ravitch also said @Pontifex could be a good way for Pope Benedict XVI to extend the church’s hand to Catholics who might be losing touch or are disconnected from their faith.
Still, human biology junior Marissa Papaleo, a Catholic, said she likely won’t be adding the Pope to her list of Twitter follows.
“It all depends on what types of things he tweets about,” Papaleo said, adding Twitter primarily is a way she communicates with her friends. “I don’t really care to read religious tweets throughout my day, so if religious issues and thoughts are the focus of his tweets, I probably will not follow him.”