December 13th, 2012
11:51 AM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN) – Pope Benedict XVI's first tweet from his new personal Twitter account on Wednesday was simple: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”
But the social media response to the pope's first day of active tweeting has been anything but straightforward.
The pope’s Twitter account quickly swelled to over a million followers and tweets about @pontifex – meaning “bridge builder” – swirled around the Internet. Thousands of the pontiff’s Twitter followers replied to his message, which was retweeted more than 50,000 times.
By Thursday morning Eastern Time, the pope had sent seven tweets, including three responses to Twitter questions from people on three different continents, according to the Vatican.
"How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?" one of the pope's followers asked via Twitter.
"By speaking with Jesus in prayer," the pope tweeted back, "listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need."
Many tweeters this week are employing the hashtag “#AskPontifex,” with questions ranging from the personal to the mundane, from the controversial to the deeply spiritual:
Many Catholics welcomed the pope's foray onto Twitter.
“It couldn't hurt,” says James Martin, a Jesuit priest and an editor at America magazine. “The Holy Father's embrace of new technology reminds people that the church is trying to meet people where they are, just like Jesus did.”
Though Martin may not be as popular on Twitter as His Holiness, he is an avid tweeter, with 15,000 followers at @JamesMartinSJ.
Some tweeps – as people on Twitter are known – asked His Holiness tough questions:
There were also many questions about the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal:
Martin says these sorts of questions should not be surprising.
“It's a huge problem, so it makes sense that people would bring it up to the pope," Martin says. "Something similar happens in presidential press conferences: the most pressing problem is usually the topic of the first question.”
Earlier this year, a study commissioned by the Trenton Archdiocese in New Jersey found that the main reason people were leaving the church was because of what they considered its inadequate response to clergy sex abuse.
As is common with Twitter, Benedict received plenty of tweets from dreamers:
And also from the sports obsessed:
And from the politically inclined:
Many tweeps asked Benedict personal questions:
After the Pope sent his first tweet, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Paul Tighe, told Vatican Radio that it marked "an extraordinary moment."
The attention it sparked within the Twitterverse was impressive, Tighe said, with more than 2,000 retweets in under two minutes.
Some tweeps, however, were unimpressed with pope's reach so far – especially compared to other religious and cultural figures:
- CNN’s Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.