After Pope Benedict XVI stepped down, it was looking like all the Catholic church’s social media progress was about to crumble. The Facebook app Pope2You was disabled, as was the Pope’s Twitter account Pontifex. But now it looks like the Twitter account has been revived to announce the election of the new Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. Bergoglio was introduced to the world Wednesday afternoon as the new Pope Francis I, the 266th pontiff and the first non-European Pope in over 1,000 years (my money was on the old white guy, so I’m eating humble pie).
Bergoglio’s election to the papacy was announced approximately one hour after white smoke appeared above the Sistine Chapel where the Catholic cardinals had gathered together in an ultra-secret conclave. With surprising swiftness, the announcement was also made on the official papal Twitter account, Pontifex, as well as the official Vatican website. Still no official Facebook page, though...
The all-caps tweet reads “HABEMUM PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” which translates to “we have Pope Francis.” It’s not clear who exactly sent the tweet, since it’s doubtful that that was the new Pope’s first act of duty. I’m just going to go out on a limb and assume he wasn’t on his iPhone when he got the news.
Less than two hours after the tweet was sent, it was retweeted more than 58,000 times, and the account gained over 100,000 new followers.
The church has been making headway in the digital scene over the last few years. The Vatican got a YouTube channel back in 2008, and in 2009, it launched its Facebook application “Pope2You,” which has since been disabled. The pope even has an iPhone app—H2Onews, where you can get all your popey news on the go.
The social media outreach was two-pronged: on the one hand, it was meant to allay concerns about the non-communicative Pope Benedict XVI. On the other hand, it was also meant to be an active effort to reach out to young Catholics who have been dwindling in number over the years. In the two months that Pope Benedict XVI was on Twitter, he sent out 39 tweets altogether and gained 1.6 million followers. His account became the 768th largest Twitter account, according to Twitaholic.
Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was the first pope in the church’s history to resign. His last day was February 28, which he celebrated with one final tweet: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.”
It remains to be seen whether the new pope will carry on the digital legacy of the former.