On Faith reached out to some of the Catholic Church’s most influential online voices to get a sense of how the faithful are reacting to the news that Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, has begun tweeting to his followers.
Fr. James Martin SJ, is culture editor of America Magazine and author of ‘ The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.’ Follow him @JamesMartinSJ
[The pope joining Twitter] is another sign of the Vatican’s willingness to go “to the ends of the earth,” and to the ends of the web, to spread the Good News. I’m all for it--as a Tweeter myself.
No medium is beneath us when it comes to spreading the Gospel. Jesus used every and all media to reach people of his time--including simple stories about seeds and flowers, and birds and fish. If Jesus could talk about the birds of the air, then we can surely tweet.
There will of course be some haters who use @pontifex and post some nasty stuff in response, but that goes with the territory.
The old saw is that the Vatican thinks in centuries, not minutes. But since the Second Vatican Council (at least) the church has seen itself as resolutely in (as opposed to against) the modern world. So it uses all the tools of the modern world to introduce people to Jesus.
[Technology is] making the church respond more quickly to current events; it’s giving it new ways of proclaiming the Gospel; and it’s helping Catholics stay in closer touch with one another, and with someone like the pope, who who centuries ago seemed far removed from the daily lives of everyday Catholics.
I’m pretty impressed that Pope Benedict had a quarter of a million followers before he even sent out his first tweet! To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the pope!
This means a good deal to Catholics who are spending significant time on social networks and blogs. There are many Catholics who aren’t using social media or are using it, but not for religious purposes. Perhaps more than anything, this is a sign from the pope to priests, religious and the laity that social media is not just a kid’s game. In some ways, this legitimizes Twitter for many. This tells Catholics and young people that he cares about them and wants to talk with them. The pope goes to World Youth Days to be with millions of youth. Now he has expanded even that large audience.
It’s important for him because as the teacher of the faith, he’s showing that you must go out and talk to the masses wherever they are. He’s leading by example. The Catholic Church, and all religions for that matter, are looking for ways to connect with audiences of all ages. Social media is a very simple direct way to communicate and interact with wide audiences. By making himself available, he’s showing that the church can take 2,000 years of ageless messages and truths to young audiences with confidence.
There are always risks. You often see major figures use the latest fads simply because they’re the latest fads. Some people pander. He has to be authentic. In a cynical world, particularly on social media, the snarky comments rule the day. His voice has to rise above that and it will in 140 characters or less.
The church has been a leader in communications in many ways. The first book off Guttenberg’s printing press in the mid-1500s reportedly was the Bible. Vatican radio, which reaches worldwide, was launched in 1931 by Marconi. Today, there are many forward-thinking Catholics bishop, priests, sisters, lay ministers and lay Catholics involved in social media and blogging. It’s a very active niche. Pope Benedict, at 85 years old, is showing that the church is eternally young. Technology like Twitter reminds Catholics of their role as evangelizers. No one will be able to evangelize in the social media like the pope, however.
Sam Rocha, Catholic blogger at Patheos.com
The Catholic Church is mater et magistra, mother and teacher. Pope Benedict is our pastor, our shepherd. What do mothers, teachers, and pastoral shepherds have in common? Being present. They must be with and dwell with their children, pupils, and flock. Absence is not an option. Virtual reality has its limits and risks, but, like it or not, it is a part of the world. So Benedict is showing up. I’m less interested in the content of his account, what he says and tells. I am more impressed with his presence, what he shows by simply being there. For all its well-known faults and mistakes, this is what the Catholic Church has excelled at: being. As institutions and nation-states come and go, as modernity has bloomed and aged, the church has been present. Twitter will come and go and @Pontifex will too. But the ministry will remain timeless. This is not about Pope Benedict or Twitter. It is about things that endure and will not abandon us. Love.
Elizabeth Scalia, Patheos’ Catholicism editor. Follow her @TheAnchoress
Considering how slow Rome has historically been to respond to, well, almost anything, once Benedict made it clear that he wanted the church online and engaged, things moved with relative swiftness. It was only in 2010 that he urged priests and religious to get online and try to give the internet “ a soul”. A year later the Vatican was meeting with bloggers and His Holiness was seen with an iPad; Twitter is a logical step for 2012. If this pope is not as camera-and-broadcast-media savvy as his predecessor, he appears to be new-media savvy enough to know he wants the church there.
What could go wrong? Ohh...plenty. But they’re things that can go wrong for anyone, at any moment, online; I’m tempted to say there is a danger that the pope can be misconstrued, but it’s difficult to imagine how Benedict can be any MORE misconstrued than he usually is in most media stories about him -- witness the silly headlines following the release of his latest book, suggesting that Benedict was naysaying the Christmas narratives. On the other hand, if His Holiness is misconstrued, setting the record straight is much faster and more efficient online. He won’t have to wait four days for a “clarification” (in section C, page 36) of the screaming headlines that had appeared front page, above the fold. In that sense, I guess you could say Rome has a shot at grabbing the wheel of the Barque of St. Peter from the hands of the media and being its own helmsman-of-perception.Will Rome get it wrong, sometimes? Of course they will. Every blogger, every person who uses social media gets it wrong sometimes, and the church, for all that it is perceived as an impersonal unit, is made up of flawed, faulty human beings who could not help but bring themselves along when they signed up for the life of faith. Their mistakes will obviously be amplified. But they might have the effect of humanizing the churchmen and churchwomen, too. So, the truth is, we shall see what we see, and very likely no one will be able to pronounce this endeavor a success or a failure for quite some time, because in the end God only knows what the Holy Spirit will do with this astoundingly far-reaching yet paradoxically intimate world of social media.
The pope’s Twitter feed is going live. I’m excited. While this is an excellent opportunity for young Catholics to encounter the church’s teachings, I suspect that this open line of communication will be utilized by some to be able to curse directly at the pope. Do you know how many four-letter words you can fit in a 140 character limit? I don’t have a calculator handy but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot!
But Christians are quite familiar with lion’s dens. Have been for a while. And let’s face it, real lions don’t just curse in ALL CAPS and use clever hashtags.
But the pope getting on Twitter does raise some interesting issues. If you don’t retweet the pope, is that a sin of omission?
If the pope “follows you” doesn’t that really set the Church hierarchy upside down? Do I really want that kind of responsibility? I don’t even have a mitre.
And if you get blocked by the pope is that a 21st century form of excommunication? Are we really about to see the birth of the excommunitweet? Because that would actually be pretty awesome.
And how about papal emoticons? What will they look like?
There may be some who snicker, seeing Pontifex as a bit of an anachronism in that the 2,000 year old church is implementing 21st century technology. But I think the church has always spoken to people where they are. And let’s remember Jesus may have been the greatest tweeter ever. Have you ever noticed that all the Beatitudes are 140 characters or less.
•Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
•Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
•Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
It seems to me that the Catholic Church is made for Twitter. It doesn’t need verbiose blandishments. Our message is simple. #Love.
As a priest who has been using Twitter for years, I’ve always felt that the Catholic clergy have been underrepresented on this platform. Having the pope begin tweeting will change that.
For one thing, it dispels any notion that the church looks down on technology. That’s a lingering misconception. The fact that various social media can be misused, or are seen by some as a temptation to waste time or engage in trivialities, does not take away their value or their power for good.
And that leads to the second consideration. The Catholic Church considers the clergy – and especially the pope and bishops – to have the primary (though not at all exclusive) responsibility for spreading the Gospel. Therefore, they should be at the forefront of utilizing every means available to evangelize, and Twitter is one of those means. This is especially important now, with the Church’s emphasis on the “New Evangelization.”
So for papal tweets, praise the Lord!
Pope Benedict XVI clearly recognizes the potential and responsibility to shepherd and minister to the faithful wherever they may be. Twitter, like other social media, invites the potential for true dialogue. I think his presence on Twitter is a sign of great hope for people of all ages, Catholic or not, who will learn from and have the opportunity to share @Pontifex’s tweets.
Pope Benedict XVI’s entry into the world of Twitter as a compliment to the Vatican’s well-established YouTube presence and their News.va site is a great sign that the Holy Father wants to use every means at his disposal to spread the good news of the Gospel. The church has always used emerging technologies to evangelize and to communicate. Like other world and religious leaders, Pope Benedict XVI will make a great contribution to the dialogue that happens each day at Twitter.
When you invite dialogue, you take the negative along with the positive. The #askpontifex hashtag is already sparking so much conversation, much of it not serious and even attack oriented. But the good news is that other Catholics who have a presence in social media can enter into positive discussions with those who are genuinely seeking information, prayer or support as a compliment to Pope Benedict XVI’s official tweets.
The church does not lightly make decisions, but this deliberation is most often a prudent posture to take. In the case of technology, with the rapidly advancing state of resources, the Vatican is wise to recognize an opportunity to engage the faithful and spiritual seekers right where they are. One major change technology offers is the opportunity for lay Catholics like myself who love our faith and desire to share it with others to embrace the blessings (and challenges) of new mission fields like Twitter. Our presence there on a daily basis is meant to be a compliment to and a support for the Vatican’s official platform.