Papal Twitter account draws buzz

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The pope may be the least-accessible person on Earth. Even as kings and presidents post status updates on their Facebook pages and appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” Pope Benedict XVI has remained above it all, unreachable for comment or clarification, visible only from a balcony or in his popemobile bubble.

Until now.

On Dec. 12, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger will start tweeting with the handle @pontifex, the Vatican said Monday. The historic announcement set off a deluge of comments and questions from people who couldn’t believe they were actually communicating with the successor of Jesus’ apostle Peter.

The Catholic Church has largely sat out the social-media revolution. The possibility of making the leader of the world’s largest faith group accessible via your iPhone has staggering potential. A day after the announcement of @pontifex and before sending out a single tweet, the pope had a half-million followers.

Since the announcement, social-media experts and regular folk alike have been wondering: Will he respond in real time to events, potentially making news far more often and shaping global events? What will his “voice” be like, his personality in 140 characters? Could someone of his unique stature change Twitter? Could Twitter change him?

Some said Twitter’s brevity might be a positive — and surprisingly like the language of the Bible.

“The key points don’t have to be a major statement of faith: God loves you. Love your neighbor. Help the poor,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops. “The shortness is a benefit. We’re in a hectic world.”

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