— Pope Benedict XVI hit the 1 million Twitter follower mark on Wednesday as he sent his first tweet from his new account, blessing his online fans and urging them to listen to Christ.
In perhaps the most drawn out Twitter launch ever, the 85-year-old Benedict tapped the screen of a tablet brought to him at the end of his general audience after the equivalent of a papal drum roll by an announcer who intoned: "And now the pope will tweet!"
"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 inaugural tweet read.
At around the same time the message was sent, the number of followers of Benedict's (at)Pontifex accounts surpassed the 1 million mark, with all eight languages of the pope's account combined.
While the (at)Pontifex English account remains the most popular, nearing 800,000 followers, the pope is tweeting simultaneously in Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Polish and Arabic. Each language has its own handle, though they're all the pope's account: (at)Pontifex_es, for Spanish for example, (at)Pontifex_it for Italian, (at)Pontifex_fr for French, and so on.
The first papal tweet has been the subject of intense curiosity — as well as merciless jokes, criticism and commentary. "The pope has an iPad?" comedian Jon Stewart asked earlier this year. The Onion satirical newspaper ran a piece "Pope tweets picture of self with God." And in perhaps a more long-term and problematic issue for the Vatican, the (at)Pontifex handle was flooded with negative messages from users remarking on the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Vatican officials have said they expected such negativity, but that is a risk they take by putting the Catholic Church's message out.