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BY Matthew Warner
The Pope's authentic presence on Twitter has been, in my opinion, the single most significant evangelistic move by the Vatican regarding it's use of new media (and maybe old media, too) in our day. At least it has the potential to be so.
The Vatican website, the Pope2You project, Vatican radio, the Youtube channel and all of the other notable steps they've taken have been important, but @Pontifex (the Pope's twitter handle) has the most potential when it comes to evangelization. And, ironically, it's probably been the most simple.
I say all of this because:
It will probably end up regularly reaching the most people who need evangelizing (out of all those projects)
It's culturally relevant and timely.
It's being used properly and effectively (i.e. the Pope is listening to questions via Twitter and then answering in 140 characters. And he's not just posting links to Vatican news reports.)
He's already the most followed Christian leader in the world on Twitter with well over 1 million Twitter followers. And that happened in less than 7 tweets. In time, I predict, he could easily cross the 10 million mark which would put him in the company of the world's most influential cultural trend setters (http://twitaholic.com/top100/followers/) when it comes to New Media.
But to get there, he'll have to not only keep up the good work, but also continue to keep things interesting. In addition to Brandon Vogt's great suggestions, here are a few things I think the Pope could realistically tweet in the future to get there:
Questions to us. Clearly he is listening on the #AskPontifex hash tag. That's great. But I think an open question every once in awhile (that the Pope has for us) would be excellent and a great listening tool for him and the Church.
His personal opinion about something non-theological. I realize he is representing Christ's Church on Earth, but he's also a real human being like us. And I think it's important for people to see and remember that. They'll relate to his answers and other tweets better that way. It gives him a chance to show his sense of humor a little bit, too.
Updates on what he's actually doing that day. "Greeting a crowd of a million youth for WYD today, so excited! Please pray for all of us. [insert picture link]". Or..."Just canonized two American Saints today - Oh yeah! Learn more here -> [link]". Etc. The Pope does some amazing things every day. And all people ever hear are the bad news reports from the MSM. This is a huge opportunity to share the good news, too!
Bonus: this. (I'm only partially kidding on that one)
Now all of these may sound easy enough, but are probably more complicated for the Pope to execute than for anybody else on the planet. But I think it could be done thoughtfully and with great effect. And I certainly commend all the hard work and planning the folks at the Vatican have done to pull this off so well so far.
But as much as this is a great opportunity for the Pope, what he's really done is given all of us an even greater opportunity to multiply what he's doing.
Here are 5 things you can do to take advantage of this opportunity:
Follow him and tell all of your followers to follow him (twitter.com/Pontifex). (Why Pontifex?)
Retweet/favorite his tweets when they move you to do so.
Use the #AskPontifex hash tag. Ask him a question. Who knows, he may answer your question!
Reply to his tweets. That's a great way to share your thoughts with your followers in response to his. Even if he doesn't get to read all the replies, other people ARE reading them. And, unfortunately, there are a lot of hurt, angry or troll-like people out there who are monopolizing the replies back to his tweets with a lot of negative stuff. Let's flood the replies with affirmation and charity.
Engage with others who are engaging the pope. This is the greatest evangelistic opportunity the Pope has given us. The Pope can't reply to every question. Search the #AskPontifex hash tag for honest questions and strike up a conversation with those people. Find people who are replying to the Pope and help charitably engage those people where the Pope cannot. There are millions of these little opportunities hiding out there and the Pope has just drawn them all out.
Let's join him on this great adventure and shared mission as the Church. (And if you want to follow the Pope on Twitter from your phone without even joining Twitter, simply text FOLLOW @PONTIFEX to the phone number 40404)