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Science & Environment
Jun 29 2011 1:03PM
Pope's first tweet marks Vatican social media revolution
Source: AFP
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The sight of Pope Benedict XVI tweeting on an iPad reveals a transformation underway in the tradition-bound Vatican to reach a younger global audience and improve a scandal-tainted image.

A bemused pope can be seen tapping on the tablet device in his Vatican palace in footage put up on YouTube this week, with a cardinal showing the 84-year-old how to scroll through the Holy See's new multimedia web portal.

"Dear Friends, I just launched Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI," wrote the pope, using his formal name in Latin -- still the Vatican's official language.

The website includes Twitter updates, YouTube videos, Flickr photos and Facebook links and was developed by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which has spearheaded the Internet drive.

It is decorated with the Vatican colours -- white and yellow -- and brings together information from the Vatican's radio, television and print outlets as well as news from the Fides missionary news agency about the developing world.

Bruno Bartoloni, a Vatican expert who writes for Italian daily Corriere della Sera, said the Church's embrace of social media was also a way to bypass traditional and more critical media to deliver information directly.

"The paedophilia scandals of recent years have shocked the Church and have encouraged it to abandon the language of tradition," he said.

"The Church understands that its reasoning is often badly understood, with traditional media choosing to underline colourful aspects or criticism, or simplifying messages that are in essence complex," he added.

But another expert in Vatican affairs in Rome, Sandro Magister from the news weekly L'Espresso, said the Holy See was in fact accepting it had to "widen the circle of people who can react and criticise" to the Church's message.

Marco Politi from Il Fatto Quotidiano daily, said the site was part of "a media offensive to give an image of openness, of a pope in dialogue."

The Vatican "does not want to stay on the sidelines of the web," he said.

The website is only one of many Internet initiatives by the Vatican including another site that collected information about purported miracles attributed to late pope John Paul II, who is on the path to sainthood.

Benedict also produced podcasts ahead of his trip to Portugal last year and took questions during a chat show on Italian television earlier this year with questions sent via video link-ups from Japan, Ivory Coast and Iraq.

In a keynote message last year to mark the Church's World Communications Day -- another novelty -- the leader of the world's Catholics urged priests to make "astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications."

The Christian message "can traverse the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different 'highways' that form cyberspace and show that God has his rightful place in every age, including our own," he said.

Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of the official Vatican daily Osservatore Romano, said this week: "In contrast to some stereotypes, the Vatican, the pope and his secretary of state are very sensitive to communications."

Among the recent initiatives is a new e-learning centre that will inform clergy around the world on how to fight child abuse -- a response to the thousands of scandals that have emerged across Europe and the United States.

The Vatican's Gregorian University will host an international conference in February 2012 at which the new portal is expected to be launched.

Hans Zollner, a German psychologist priest leading the project, told AFP that the website would be "a step... on a long and painful path."


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