Pope Benedict XVI, now with one million followers, launches first Tweet (+video)
The Pontiff greeted his new digital flock on Wednesday with a blessing.
In perhaps the most drawn out Twitter launch ever, the 85-year-old Benedict pushed the button on a tablet brought to him at the end of his general audience after the equivalent of a papal drum roll by an announcer who intoned: "And now the pope will tweet!"
"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," the inaugural tweet read.
At around the same time the message was sent, the number of followers of Benedict's (at)Pontifex account surpassed the 1 million mark with all eight languages of the handle combined, adding some 11,000 followers in the last two hours alone.
The first papal tweet has been the subject of intense curiosity — as well as merciless jokes, spam and commentary. "The pope has an iPad?" comedian Jon Stewart asked earlier this year. The Onion satirical newspaper ran a piece "Pope tweets picture of self with God." And in perhaps a more long-term and problematic issue for the Vatican, the (at)Pontifex handle was flooded with spam from users remarking on the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Vatican officials have said they expected such negativity, but that is a risk they take by putting the Catholic Church's message out.
"These are already all over the Internet, in newspapers, in so many forms of expression," the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Jesuit magazine "Civilta Cattolica" told Vatican Radio this week. "They form part of ordinary communication."