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Pope's First Tweet Blesses Internet Faithful
Pope Benedict XVI has sent his first Twitter message under his handle @Pontifex, blessing his one million internet followers.
"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," the pontiff tweeted.
Since the Pope announced earlier this month that he would start tweeting under his official Latin title, almost 800,000 people have registered to follow his main account in English.
He gained about a million followers in the eight languages of his account - Arabic, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish - in addition to English.
However, the Pope does not plan to follow anyone.
To send his first tweet, the Pope tapped on his tablet during a general audience.
"An extraordinary moment," the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Monsignor Paul Tighe, told Vatican Radio.
He said the response of the Twittersphere was impressive, with more than 2,000 re-tweets in under two minutes.
Church officials said subsequent tweets would be sent by someone in the Vatican's secretariat of state, rather than the pontiff, but only after papal approval.
Subsequent papal tweets on Wednesday addressed some of the questions submitted to Benedict in the run-up to the launch at #askpontifex.
The first tweets drew jokes, criticism and some positive responses. Some accused the Pope for the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church in recent years.
"hey @Pontifex you want 5000 followers in five minutes? stop protecting paedophiles in the church and follow back!" said user @elizabethdanger.
"May the connection to God gets closer...." joked one user, @Svidss.
The German-born Pope is an 85-year-old theologian used to writing philosophical dissertations and papal encyclicals.
But under his pontificate, the Vatican has pushed into the social media, using YouTube and Facebook for special events as it tries to reach out to the faithful, especially the young.
One user, @becsplanb, replying to the Pope's tweet asking how faith in Jesus can be lived in a world without hope, said: "I find drinking heavily helps."
Another appeared unimpressed with the question: "Seriously Pope I waited all this time for a Question," said @kataranRI.
Pope Benedict does have some previous experience of tweeting, having launched the official Vatican news site on Twitter, @news_va_en, in June last year, but this was his first tweet under his personal handle.
While a pope is infallible under Church doctrine, Benedict XVI's tweets are not, Vatican officials said.