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 center 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.”

Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.



Benedict’s Twitter History

Pope Emeritus Benedict has stated he intends to be silent and hidden from the world, meaning that his last tweet from the Twitter of St. Peter is his last. However, here are the tweets of Benedict XVI from the beginning to the end of the journey that made him a Pilgrim Pope to the digital world:


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 12, 2012

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.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 12, 2012

How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 12, 2012

By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 12, 2012

How can faith in Jesus be lived in a world without hope?


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 12, 2012

We can be certain that a believer is never alone. God is the solid rock upon which we build our lives and his love is always faithful.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 12, 2012

Any suggestions on how to be more prayerful when we are so busy with the demands of work, families and the world?


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 12, 2012

Offer everything you do to the Lord, ask his help in all the circumstances of daily life and remember that he is always beside you.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 19, 2012

Everyone’s life of faith has times of light, but also times of darkness. If you want to walk in the light, let the word of God be your guide.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 19, 2012

Mary is filled with joy on learning that she is to be the mother of Jesus, God’s Son made man. True joy comes from union with God.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 21, 2012

When you deny God, you deny human dignity. Whoever defends God is defending the human person.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 21, 2012

We do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us. Christ, who is the truth, takes us by the hand.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 21, 2012

At the end of the year, we pray that the Church, despite her shortcomings, may be increasingly recognizable as Christ’s dwelling place.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 24, 2012

What family Christmas tradition from your childhood do you still remember?


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Dec. 24, 2012

The cribs that we built in our home gave me much pleasure. We added figures each year and used moss for decoration.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 1, 2013

May Our Lord bless you and watch over you in the new year.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 2, 2013

When we entrust ourselves to the Lord completely, everything changes. We are children of a Father who loves us, and never leaves us.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 6, 2013

The Wise Men followed the star and reached Jesus, the great light that illuminates all of humanity.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 7, 2013

Please join me in praying for Syria, so that constructive dialogue will replace the horrendous violence.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 7, 2013

Nigerians have a special place in my heart, as so many have been victims of senseless violence in recent months.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 7, 2013

May we defend the right of conscientious objection of individuals and institutions, promoting freedom and respect for all.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 9, 2013

Following Christ’s example, we have to learn to give ourselves completely. Anything else is not enough.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 13, 2013

In this Year of Faith, may every Christian rediscover the beauty of being reborn in the love of God and living as his true children.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 13, 2013

What happens in Baptism? We become united forever with Jesus, to be born again to a new life.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 16, 2013

If we have love for our neighbor, we will find the face of Christ in the poor, the weak, the sick and the suffering.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 20, 2013

What does the Lord ask of us as we work for Christian unity? To pray constantly, do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with Him.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 23, 2013

Many false idols are held up today. For Christians to be faithful, they can’t be afraid to go against the current.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 25, 2013

I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 27, 2013

What does Sunday, the day of the Lord, mean for us? It is a day for rest and for family, but first of all a day for Him.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Jan. 30, 2013

Every human being is loved by God the Father. No one need feel forgotten, for every name is written in the Lord’s loving Heart.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 2, 2013

Today I have a special though [sic] for every religious: may they always follow Christ faithfully in poverty, chastity and obedience.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 2, 2013

Today I have a special thought for every religious: may they always follow Christ faithfully in poverty, chastity and obedience.

Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 3, 2013

Let us imitate the Virgin Mary in welcoming and guarding the word of Jesus, in order to recognize him as Lord in our lives


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 6, 2013

Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 10, 2013

We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 13, 2013

During the season of Lent which begins today, we renew our commitment to the path of conversion, making more room for God in our lives.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 17, 2013

Lent is a favourable time in which to rediscover faith in God as the foundation of our lives and of the Church’s life.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 24, 2013

In these momentous days, I ask you to pray for me and for the Church, trusting as always in divine Providence.


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 27, 2013

If only everyone could experience the joy of being Christian, being loved by God who gave his Son for us!


Benedict XVI ‏@Pontifex – Feb. 28, 2013

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