Well, it’s happened. The pope has a twitter account. As I write these words, Benedict XVI has been tweeting for about three hours, and already a million people follow him through eight different language accounts.
Leaders in the hipster churches, the emerging churches, and the evangelical churches have been using twitter for years now. But I expect that sort of thing. Those versions of Protestantism have a tradition of embracing “new measures” in order to reach new groups of people. The modern missions movement, American revivalism, seeker-friendly services, et cetera. We expect Protestant leaders to tweet, blog, and podcast. The new media has replaced the new measures. But when the Pope tweets it feels different.
Honestly, when the Pope does anything if feels different. There’s just something about the Pope that makes even non-Catholics sit up and take notice. Whether you respect or resent the Pope, you still find yourself caring what he does and says, usually so you can confirm your respect or resentment.
I think part of reason I find a tweeting Benedict fascinating is his age. If he was a young and energetic Innocent III, I’d probably be less interested in what he had to say. But Benedict looks almost as old as St. Peter’s Basilica. I find the incongruence of an old soul communicating itself through a new media irresistible.
As of this writing, Benedict follows no one except his own accounts in other languages. Twitter is an excellent medium for entering a global conversation. I wonder whether the Pope will actually dialogue with the world or merely be content to send out messages. It sort of seems contrary to the nature of the papacy to “follow” someone else, but I hope Benedict engages with his followers.
Regardless, however, I will be following @pontifex on twitter, even though I am exceedingly Protestant. I hope that Benedict tweets often and that his messages will be both interesting and edifying. I’m always interested in what an old soul has to say.