By Flavia Rotondi Bloomberg News
ROME — Pope Benedict XVI’s new Twitter account is attracting a surge in followers after the Vatican announced that the pontiff will send his first tweet next week.
The account Pontifex, Latin for “pontiff,” had 70,000 followers as of 3:00 p.m. in Rome, up from fewer than 10 earlier Monday, Benedict’s official Twitter page showed. On Dec. 12 the Pope, 85, will send his first message in eight languages, the Vatican said.
“We have been amazed by how quickly the numbers shoot up,” Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Twitter’s Manager of Social Innovation, said in an interview after a presentation of the account in Rome on Monday. “We want him to have a successful experience on the platform and that means finding believers, connecting with believers and reaching out to non-believers, essentially.”
Benedict’s initial tweets will be on Wednesdays when he holds his general audience at St. Peter’s and could become more frequent in the future, the Vatican said in a statement. Other official accounts in different languages could be added to the initial ones of English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish and Arabic, the statement said
This is not the first time Benedict has reached out to cyberspace in an effort by the Roman Catholic Church to lure more youth into the church’s fold.
On June 28 last year, the pope used an Apple iPad to send his first post on Twitter through a non-personal Vatican account. He tapped in English on the tablet device: “Dear Friends, I just launched News.va. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.”
Within three hours, the account had more than 15,000 followers, yet was not following anyone.
“We have had already experienced where we tweeted certain messages on behalf of the Pope,” said Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. “And have seen people who were re-tweeting them, so apart from the direct reach, you have the indirect reach, which is so important.”
In 2010 the number of Catholics was surpassed for the first time by the 1.1 billion Muslims, according to the Vatican Statistical Yearbook.