Video messages by popes — that is the Pope delivering a message of importance directly to camera — were unheard of until Benedict XVI’s pontificate but now have become a staple means of communication for the Holy Father, especially ahead of papal trips

Yesterday, Pope Francis gave a video message to Armenia on the eve of his visit there this weekend. He said he was visiting as a “messenger of peace”, to strengthen communion, to advance reconciliation, and “to allow ourselves together to be animated by hope.”

He also urged the Armenian people not to “allow the painful memories to take possession of our hearts; even in the face of the repeated assaults of evil, let us not give ourselves up.”

On Monday, he issued a video message for a conference in Norway against the death penalty in which he observed that “nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person.

“It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person,” he told the Sixth World Congress against the death penalty, taking place in Oslo. “It likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.”

He also called for the “improvement of prison conditions” and not to seek punishment “for its own sake” but to ensure the “rehabilitation of the offender.” There is “no fitting punishment without hope!,” the Pope said. “Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not punishment".

Pope Francis has used the video message multiple times as Pope, and his messages have been relayed on social media and in particular "RadioVaticanaVideo" YouTube channel (it's not clear why they are not also posted on the Vatican's own YouTube channel). This includes issuing a video every month containing his monthly prayer intention (the June video is here).

Benedict XVI gave what is thought to be the first papal video message ahead of his visit to the United States in 2008. The media form was largely welcomed and the style has, thankfully, improved, so that rather than a somewhat stilted message read from a sheet of paper, the Pope now uses an autocue. With the ever increasing popularity of social media and visual communication, it’s likely to become an ever more popular media form for popes in the future.