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@Pontifex is the official Twitter account of the Pope which serves as the official communication line between The Vatican and the Catholic community at large. It was originally launched under Pope Benedict XVI in December 2012 and re-launched following the pontification of Pope Francis in March 2013.
Pope Benedict XVI officially joined Twitter under the handle @Pontifex on December 3rd, 2012. Within 48 hours, the @Pontifex Twitter account had accumulated over 490,000 followers.
December 2012: #AskPontifex
On the launch day, the New York Times published an article titled “Twitter Has a New User: The Pope,” reporting that Benedict would be sending his first tweet on December 12th and would be responding to questions submitted with #askponifex. Although the hashtag was introduced as a tech-savvy way to discuss the Catholic faith on the web, it was almost immediately overrun with jokes and insults directed at the Pope. On the same day, the tech news blog Wired reported that some users were using the hashtag to make jokes, such as asking irreverent questions about McDonald’s McRib sandwich and the 2009 horror film The Human Centipede. Also on December 3rd, the Internet news blog UpRoxx published a post titled “The Pope Has Joined Twitter,” which highlighted humorous tweets directed at Pope Benedict XVI (shown below).
On December 4th, UpRoxx published a follow-up post titled “The Best of #AskPontifex, In Which the Pope Solicits Questions and Twitter Hilariously Obliges,” which featured a slideshow of satirical tweets using the hashtag. The same day, the Internet news blog Web Pro News published a compilation of notable #AskPontifex tweets. On December 5th, the tech news blog Cnet published an article titled “#AskPontifex Meme Takes Off Before Pope’s First Tweet.”
February 2013: Temporary Closure
On February 22nd, 2013, the official Vatican broadcasting service Vatican Radio announced that the @Pontifex Twitter account, as well as eight accounts distributing the same tweets in multiple languages, would be shut down the same day Pope Benedict XVI leaves the papacy on February 28th. The announcement was subsequently reported by CNN, the tech news blog The Verge and the Internet news blog The Daily Dot. Prior to its closure, Pope Benedict posted a total of 39 tweets and garnered more than 1.5 million followers on the microblogging platform.
March 2013: Relaunch
Shortly after the election of Pope Francis on March 13th, the Twitter handle was restored from “Sede Vacante” indicating the vacancy of the papacy to Pontifex. Pope Francis’ first tweet read “Habemus papam franciscum,” which translates to “we have a new pope [Francis].”
July 2013: Offer of Indulgences
On July 16th, 2013, The Vatican announced that the church will grant “indulgences,” or remission of temporal punishment in the Purgatory, to those who follow Pope Francis on Twitter. According to the decree issued by the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, the papal court will offer indulgences to the Catholics in exchange for attending the upcoming Catholic World Youth Day to be held in Rio de Janeiro on July 22nd, or alternatively, for observing the event in real-time through television, radio and social media channels.
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