The Tweet of St. Peter is Vacant

Will the next Holy Father follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and tweet the Gospel to all nations? Twitter and social-media users must wait to find out.

VATICAN CITY — The Twitter of St. Peter is now empty. Within the hour of Benedict’s historic resignation taking effect, the papal Twitter account was emptied of Benedict’s tweets and officially renamed “Sede Vacante.”

A search for @Pontifex, the papal Twitter handle created by Pope Benedict XVI, reads “Sede Vacante” in all versions: English, Spanish, Latin, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Polish and Arabic.

The Pope’s combined 3.03 million followers no longer see the picture of the smiling Benedict XVI waving his arm in greeting against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. The image is now replaced with the Vatican crest featuring the keys of St. Peter against a yellow backdrop.

Benedict XVI’s decision to resign the papacy — the first pope in 600 years to do so — has forced the Vatican to invent new ways to adjust to life with a pope emeritus. History is no guide, as St. Celestine V, the last “pope emeritus” to live during another pope’s reign, died under house arrest imposed by his successor, Boniface VIII.

 The Vatican decided, however, that the @Pontifex handle would not enjoy a hermeneutic of continuity between Benedict’s past tweets and the new pope’s tweeting. All Benedict’s tweets have been cleared from the @Pontifex handle in anticipation for the new pope and remain stored at the Vatican’s Twitter archive.

 Benedict XVI made history Dec. 12 as the first pope to tweet from his iPad the message of the Gospel in 140 characters. Benedict made 39 tweets over 11 weeks, and he sent out a special tweet to the United States expressing solidarity with the annual March for Life.

 Catholics and well-wishers on Twitter fired up a storm of tweets thanking Benedict (@Pontifex) for his eight years of service as the vicar of Christ. On Feb. 28,  #ThanksPontifex was the third-highest trending hashtag on Twitter.

 Farewell Tweet

 Benedict responded in a farewell tweet to the outpouring of love and support he received since making the historic decision to step down from the Chair of St. Peter.

 “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives,” Benedict tweeted.

 Although personally shy, Benedict embraced his role as the “Pope of Social Media.” Twitter, Facebook and the world of social media, as Benedict stressed in his 2013 message for World Communications Day, are “a means of evangelization” and “a factor in human development” that can bring a stronger sense of unity to Christians, facilitate dialogue and invite others to join believers in the Church’s community and prayer.

 “Believers are increasingly aware that, unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people,” Benedict said. “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”


Eighty-two percent of Catholics born since 1982 have a Facebook profile page, and 24% of Catholics aged 30 and younger have a Twitter account, according to a study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The study, conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), showed that 53% of U.S. Catholics were unaware of the Church having any significant presence online. It reported that Millennials (those 30 and younger) surveyed spend an average of 3 hours 43 minutes every day online, and 52% favor getting their information from the Internet rather than from print.

 While Benedict did much to promote the authentic interpretation of Vatican II, his personal commitment to Twitter and social media closely reflected Inter Mirifica, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the “Means of Social Communications”: “All the members of the Church should make a concerted effort to ensure that the means of communication are put at the service … of the apostolate without delay and as energetically as possible.”

 The Virtual Vatican


Will the next Holy Father follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and tweet the Gospel to all nations? Twitter and social-media users must wait to find out.

 Until then, they will have the Pope App during the upcoming conclave to monitor the Vatican for white smoke and hear the words “Habemus Papam.”

 It is possible, but highly unlikely, that the Vatican might choose to make history by tweeting from the “Sede Vacante” account just two words: “Habemus @Pontifex.”

 [This post first appeared in a Catholic Conservative Newspaper ‘Register. Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.]


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Posted by on March 5, 2013. Filed under Featured,Pick of the week,Print. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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