What do Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance art and architecture, and tweeting have in common? The surprising answer is papal patronage—but in fact popes have been involved in the technology of their day for centuries despite serious mistakes like the Galileo trial or that time when Pope Gregory XVI in the nineteenth century declared railroads “pathways to hell.”
So while it is easy to, well, titter, at the Vatican’s announcement earlier this week that Pope Benedict XVI will start tweeting December 12, the launch of @pontifex (Latin for “bridge builder”) makes sense as he leads the church through a “Year of Faith” devoted to a “New Evangelization” running October 2012 through November 2013. The papal twitter account, which will likely be dictated and not thumb-typed by Benedict XVI, will offer “pearls of wisdom,” according to one Vatican official. People can send questions to the pope via #askpontifex and a mobile app should be ready within a month.
The papal twitter account (which will run in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Italian, and Polish—but not Latin) is not Rome’s first foray into high tech communication. The Vatican’s multi-lingual website (vatican.va) was launched by the media-savvy Pope John Paul II, though it remains clunky and difficult to search. Despite Benedict’s old world style, his papacy has launched a website called Pope2You directed at young people in addition to Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube accounts. Benedict launched a welcome and well-organized information portal (news.va) in June 2011 with an iPad click.
Some may wonder if the theologically-sophisticated German pope can boil his tweets down to the limit of 140 characters. Maybe he’ll start with #Jesus saves.