The pope’s Twitter presence

December 13, 2012

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 this week that Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, is using Twitter. Here are some excerpts.

The Rev. James Martin is culture editor of America magazine and author of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.” Follow him on Twitter, @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 centuries ago seemed far removed from the daily lives of everyday Catholics.

Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Follow her on Twitter, @sisterwalsh.

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.

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.

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.

E lizabeth Scalia, Patheos’ Catholicism editor. Follow her on Twitter, @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 the 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.

What could go wrong? Oh . . . plenty. . . . 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. . . . 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).

Matt Archbold writes for the National Catholic Register and blogs at the Creative Minority Report.

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?

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.

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?

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