Among the large number of books issued during the first months of Pope Francis’ pontificate illustrating his gestures and the innovations he has introduced, a small volume has been published by the Vatican Publishing House featuring the Pope’s messages on Twitter from March 17 to September 10, complete with wonderful pictures by Giovanni Chiaramonte. Now, reviewing a book like this may look like useless or outdated work. But, in fact, the messages sent by the Pope have nearly totalled 200 since the first 174 tweets (by November 15 he had sent 192) and above all, the number of followers, i.e., those following the Pope in the nine languages of the official account @Pontifex has soared to 10 million, as the Holy Father himself declared (on Twitter, needless to say) on Sunday, October 27.
It is a work in progress making use of an instrument appreciated by Pope Francis, who has taken up the baton from Benedict XVI, the first Pope to use Twitter, sending his first message on December 12, 2012, an instrument particularly congenial to Pope Francis, seeing as it enables him to reach the peripheries to which he is determined to send his message.
Though covering a short period of time, this small volume has one merit, or rather two: 1) collecting the messages sent by the Pope during the first months of his pontificate, a short one-line catechesis, as it were, beyond the ephemeral, i.e., the dimension which seems to characterize social networks; and 2) providing a contribution to outlining Pope Francis’ personality through his own words. The analysis of the 140 tweets of this six-month period, in fact, brings the guidelines of his message to the fore, from the invitation to the faithful to pray for him (his first tweet on March 17, four days after his election) and to take care of God’s creation (March 19 and June 5) to the reminder that “true power is service. The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable” (March 19) and advice on how to be with Jesus who “demands that we go out from ourselves and from living a tired habitual faith” (March 27), “letting Christ take possession of our lives and transform them” (April 10) and to avoid being “part-time and low-cost Christians” (May 16 and September 5), “bored or sad believers” (June 30), or “being content to live a mediocre Christian life” (May 7), to small pieces of advice to the faithful like: “How marvelous it would be if at the end of the day each of us could say: ‘Today I have performed an act of charity toward others’” (April 29) or “Are you angry with someone? Pray for that person. That is what the Christian life is about” (June 17).
Nor can we leave out the strong messages for Lent, Holy Week and Easter (March 25 to April 1), his attention to the Chinese people: “On the feast of Mary Help of Christians I join the Catholics in China who trust in the protection of Our Lady of Sheshan and I pray for them” (May 23), his closeness to young people, whom he asks “not to bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you. Do not be afraid to dream of great things” (April 26), and to whom he wrote straight off during the intense Rio World Youth Days, getting into hash tags #Rio2013 and #JMJ until the dramatic escalation of war in Syria, to which Pope Francis reacted by rallying believers from all over the world, inviting them to fast and pray. Here, in an uninterrupted crescendo, the tweets become more intense, more than one per day, and they vibrantly record the Holy Father’s sorrowful appeal to “pray for peace” (September 1) and denounce “how much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain the use of arms has caused in its wake” (September 2), to condemn “the use of chemical weapons” (September 3) and his call for negotiation.
These tweets are strong messages given in small doses day by day, messages that all of us can find on our Smartphones and use as a stimulus to reflect and meditate on our Christian life.