By Devin Watkins
Five years have passed since Pope Benedict XVI posted the first Tweet on the official papal Twitter account: @Pontifex.
That historic Tweet read: "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."
Pope Francis in turn took up the prophetic mission of evangelizing through social media upon his election, and the papal Twitter handle currently counts more than 40 million followers in 9 languages.
Standing next to now Pope emeritus Benedict XVI on 12 December 2012 as the first Tweet was posted was Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Secretariat of State.
Joy of spreading the Word of God
Archbishop Becciu spoke to Vatican Media’s Alessandro Gisotti about the significance of the Popes' presence on social media.
“I remember being with Pope Benedict: he was a little clumsy pushing the buttons on the tablet. But at the same time I saw him very joyful. He was happy to be able to dialogue with netizens and to be part of the new wave of modern communications,” he said.
Archbishop Becciu said this was the best way “to reach so many people and spread the Word of God”.
Pope Francis expanded his digital footprint by launching an Instagram account (@Franciscus) on 19 March 2016, which now has more than 5 million followers.
Archbishop Becciu said Pope Francis ironically considers himself a “digital dinosaur” but is interested all the same, requesting frequent updates.
“I think the Pope is aware of being an evangelizer and missionary to the world. So for him all instruments may be used. They are tools that can help diffuse his evangelizing word.”
The Pope, Archbishop Becciu said, “reads the Tweets he is to publish with joy and approves them with great enthusiasm.”
Papal advice for social media
When it comes to the proper use of social media, Archbishop Becciu said Pope Francis has already given several guidelines.
“Most importantly, do not abuse them: Do not use them at Mass!” he said, quoting the Holy Father.
Archbishop Becciu said the Pope has also reminded bishops and priests not to abuse social media.
“But at the same time, we must have the courage and wisdom to use them well. Courage is needed because it is new and so we need to ‘throw ourselves’ into this newness. And [it requires] wisdom since every tool should be used in the proper measure,” he said.
One final piece of advice, Archbishop Becciu said, is to avoid offensive speech on social media.
“We must use it as an instrument for communicating with others. Communication should help us grow in the Spirit, in culture, and in our attitudes toward other people.”