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Religion

Pope joins Twitter masses

Pope Benedict XVI has joined the micro-blogging website Twitter in eight languages, though he's yet to break radio silence. Apparently confident in his own wisdom, he follows only himself.

"Welcome to the official Twitter page of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI," reads the short bio of Twitter's latest high-profile user, @Pontifex.

"The handle is a good one. It means 'pope' and it also means 'bridge builder,'" said Greg Burke, a senior media adviser to the Vatican.

As of 14:55 UCT on Monday, the freshly-opened English-language account had already amassed 92,681 followers  - a number that was soaring even without the head of the Roman Catholic Church having said anything as yet. Many might be proud of such a haul, but in the more traditional sense the pontiff can already claim around 1.2 billion spiritual followers around the world.

The Vatican said on Monday that the German-born pope, formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger, would start using Twitter on December 12. The first "Tweets" from the spiritual leader will be answers to selected questions, with people invited to submit questions with the hash tag (a form of keyword that uses the hash symbol to make entries easier to find) #askpontifex.

"All the pope's Tweets are the pope's words. Nobody is going to be putting words in his mouth," Burke said, adding that the Tweets would be spiritual in nature - as opposed to some of the more standard social media chatter.

The Vatican opened eight Twitter accounts in the pope's name, in eight languages: English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, French and Arabic. Each account follows the other seven. Burke said that the pope would not follow anybody else. He described the popular website with a focus on brevity, where people must constrain their individual messages to 140 characters, as a key new form of communication that is "cost-effective and not very labor intensive and is aimed at young people."

The German-language account was far slower to get off the ground than the Anglophone one, boasting a comparatively paltry 1,896 followers as of 14:55 UCT Monday.

msh/hc (dpa, Reuters)