Pope to start tweeting with Pontifex handle

VATICAN CITY — Benedict XVI, the pope known for his hefty volumes of theology and lengthy encyclicals, is now trying brevity — spreading the faith through his own Twitter account.

The pontiff will tweet in eight languages starting Dec. 12 using his personal handle @Pontifex, responding live to questions about faith during his weekly general audience, the Vatican said Monday.

Within 10 hours of the Vatican’s announcement, Benedict already had garnered nearly a quarter-million followers on the English version of @Pontifex alone, with thousands more following him in the eight other language accounts.

All that, and he hadn’t sent a single tweet.

He may never hit the 1 billion faithful that the Catholic Church counts around the globe, but he’s odds-on to get 1 million followers by the end of the year, British bookmakers Ladbrokes said.

The pope sent his first tweet last year from a generic Vatican account to launch the Holy See’s news information portal, and someone in his name tweeted daily during Lent, part of the Vatican’s efforts to increase the church presence in social media.

A personal Twitter account for the 85-year-old Benedict has been the subject of intense speculation ever since, and Monday’s news conference was packed, a strong indication of the interest it has generated.

Greg Burke, the Vatican’s communications adviser, said the handle @Pontifex was chosen because it not only means pope in Latin, but also bridge-builder, suggesting unity.

While the pope will push the button himself on Dec. 12, subsequent tweets will be sent by someone in the Vatican’s secretariat of state. They will, however, all be approved by the pope, officials said.