- (Photo: Reuters / Osservatore Romano)
The Pope will be making his presence known on Twitter for the entire Lenten season, beginning on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22.
In a time of the year when many Christians are giving up the ubiquitous social networking service for Lent, Pope Benedict XVI has decided to use the network to reach a new generation.
"In our increasingly secular societies, many young people no longer keep the Lenten season in any special way -- that's why the Pontifical Council for Social Communications has come up with a new idea to focus hearts and minds on the challenges contained in Pope Benedict's Lenten message for 2012," said the Vatican's news site this morning.
A theme from the papal message will be posted on the Vatican's English account, @news_va_en, every day of Lent. Additionally, key speeches and documents will also be tweeted in a similar fashion over the coming months.
The Vatican also addressed concerns that social media might "dumb down" the Biblical message. It will be no problem, according to Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, because "many of the key gospel ideas are readily rendered in just 140 characters."
Tighe added, "This is not the only way the Church speaks but it's an avenue that is open to us and it's pithy, succinct and it's one I think that we're quite good at."
Even without the Pope's influence, Twitter has been abuzz with the Lenten season. Both "Ash Wednesday" and "Lent" have been trending on the social network all day, as well as showing up as popular searches on sites like Google.
Benedict's reign has been marked by many advances in technology for the Vatican. Since his election in 2005, Benedict has overseen the creation of a Vatican YouTube channel, an iPhone app, and a Vatican news portal.
Still, the Pope has not always looked positively upon social media. On World Communications Day in January, Benedict called for the volume of communication created by networks like Twitter to be balanced by contemplative silence.
"In our time, the Internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware," Benedict said. "If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive."