Even the Pope, it seems, is limited to 140 characters.

That, of course, is the maximum number of keystrokes permitted for one post on the social-networking tool Twitter.

Pope Benedict XVI’s first post, or “tweet,” sent on June 28, was 119 characters long. It announced the inauguration of the Vatican’s upgraded news portal: “Dear friends, I just launched News.va. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.”

At first glance, it looks a bit incongruous: the Vicar of Christ brushing his finger up and down the screen of an iPad. The 84-year-old theologian-Pope is as far removed as one can imagine from what can often be a time-wasting activity: being glued to Facebook and other popular e-meeting places.

Granted, the Holy Father is not likely to be a frequent visitor of today’s Areopagus. But, in her wisdom, the Church recognizes the very existence of that public square — and always has.

As St. Paul went to Athens to bring the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ, and as countless men and women of the Church have brought the Gospel directly to God’s people, so modern Popes, bishops and priests seek out sheep wherever they wander.

The Vatican has already expanded its presence on the Internet with Facebook and YouTube pages, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, recently confirmed, adding that Pope Benedict has said he wants to be present “where people come together.”

According to Facebook, the social-networking site has more than 750 million active users, who spend more than 700 billion minutes on the site each month. Millions more spend time on blogs, LinkedIn, MySpace and Flickr.

It need hardly be said that the new social media is no substitute for face-to-face and heart-to-heart dialogue with nonbelievers and those antagonistic to the faith. Pope Benedict’s words to priests in his Message for the 44th World Communications Day in 2010 should be taken to heart by every Christian disciple:

“The development of the new technologies and the larger digital world represents a great resource for humanity as a whole and for every individual, and it can act as a stimulus to encounter and dialogue,” he said. “But this development likewise represents a great opportunity for believers. No door can or should be closed to those who, in the name of the risen Christ, are committed to drawing near to others. To priests, in particular, the new media offer ever new and far-reaching pastoral possibilities, encouraging them to embody the universality of the Church’s mission, to build a vast and real fellowship, and to testify in today’s world to the new life which comes from hearing the Gospel of Jesus, the eternal Son who came among us for our salvation.”

“At the same time,” the Pope continued, “priests must always bear in mind that the ultimate fruitfulness of their ministry comes from Christ himself, encountered and listened to in prayer; proclaimed in preaching and lived witness; and known, loved and celebrated in the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist and reconciliation.”