Pope Benedict XVI already had hundreds of thousands of followers on his new Twitter account today—— just a day after it was unveiled and more than a week before any actual tweets appear.

The English-language version of the @pontifex handle had more than 365,000 followers —— up from 2,400 at the time of the announcement yesterday.

Counting all the eight languages of the accounts on which papally-approved tweets will appear, the number of followers was more than 500,000.

The numbers still represent only a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics who follow the Pope offline and are far lower than for celebrity singers Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber who each have over 31 million followers.

The Pope’s first tweet will appear in English on December 12.

“I’m not surprised there has been such a strong response,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, adding that the initiative had given “a signal of the ability of the Pope and his collaborators to respond to expectations.

“Obviously being a person of a certain age and like other people of a certain age he is not a digital native and will therefore use social networks differently from youngsters but he understands their potential,” Lombardi said.

The 85-year-old German Pope is a published theologian under his name Joseph Ratzinger and has just completed a trilogy about the life of Jesus Christ —— drafts of which he wrote by hand before they were typed up by aides.

The tradition-bound Vatican has embarked on an ambitious digital agenda including the launch last year of the news.va information portal, as the Catholic Church tries to reach out to a younger global audience.

The Vatican is also launching a smartphone app called “The Pope App” that will allow users to follow papal masses and events in real time, as well as being able to look inside off-bounds parts of the Vatican using webcams.

(This article was published on December 4, 2012)
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