- (PHOTO: commons.wikimedia.org)
Pope Francis announced earlier this week that he reached a social media milestone by amassing more than 10 million followers on Twitter.
"Dear Followers I understand there are now over 10 million of you! I thank you with all my heart and ask you to continue praying for me," said Francis in a tweet on Sunday.
The pope has nine different Twitter handles, each of them beginning with "Pontifex," and his words of encouragement and insight are published in a different language on each of them. Currently about 3.2 million people follow the pontiff's English language handle.
The number of people following the pope on Twitter has grown by one million per month since Francis' predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, first began tweeting on Dec. 12, 2012, according to News.va, the Vatican's official news network.
Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told News.va that "numbers aren't everything." But, on behalf of the council, he also thanked social media users, "who have helped to draw many people's attention to the Pope's words and, most of all, to the Gospel message, of which he is the spokesperson."
Francis leads a church that in 2010 was made up of an estimated 1.1 billion Catholics, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. He also has more Twitter followers than many of the most popular American megachurch pastors combined.
Combining the number of Twitter followers of Lakewood Church's Joel Osteen (2.2 million), Saddleback Church's Rick Warren (1.2 million), Mars Hill Church's Mark Driscoll (430,967), North Point Ministries' Andy Stanley (331,749) and Passion City Church's Louie Giglio (404,116) still amounts to less than half of those that the pope has amassed.
It not just his own followers the pope reaches through social media, either. News.va reports that an estimated 60 million people read his 140-character-or-less Twitter messages due to retweeting.