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Hi and thanks for landing here. It might seem a bit backward, but I decided to start blogging only because I've been enjoying Twitter so much. While I love the 140 character limit of tweets, I realised that a blog would give me a place where I could have the luxury of saying a bit more. I've also set up here because I have a blogging project in mind... but more on that later.
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Category: Twitter
Cardinals in the Vatican for the conclave
Cardinals who tweet

Posted on 26 February 2013, 6:25

Late last week, one of the cardinals who will shortly be incarcerated in the Sistine Chapel to elect the next Pope, said that the new occupant of St Peter’s chair will have to be a tweeter. ‘Probably the most important aspect of my ministry, and I would project that into the ministry of the Holy Father, is bringing the gospel into the next generation,’ said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington DC.

The trouble is, the cardinal has not himself ‘Don Wuerl’ at tweeting (forgive me father, I have punned). Cardinal Wuerl has just 21 tweets to his name, and the last time he hit the Tweet button was over a year ago. Perhaps this is his way of signalling that he’s not in the running.

I’ve been able to identify just 13 20 cardinals (out of a total college of 208) who are tweeting or have a Twitter account. Top of the list is Cardinal Timothy Dolan (age 63), Archbishop of New York, who has over 84,000 followers. His tweets are direct and upbeat and it looks like he writes them himself. ‘We’ve got a Lord who’s not so much concerned with what we’ve done in the past as with what we’re doing today – so cast out into the deep!’ he tweeted in January.

In second place (follower-wise) is Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (age 70) with over 42,000 followers. He’s President of the Pontifical Council for Culture in the Vatican, and is currently being talked up as a possible next Pope (he was on at 14/1 with tipster Paddy Power when I last checked).

Ravasi is a frequent tweeter. He posted several times a day last week because he was leading a series of spiritual exercises at the Vatican called ‘The Face of God and the Face of the Human Person in the Prayers of the Psalms’. He tweeted extracts from the meditations, beginning with ‘1st Meditation: breathe, think, struggle, love: the verbs of prayer’.

A couple of days later he tweeted: ‘[The Christ] is an abyss of light. You need to close your eyes not to fall in (Kafka)’. His meditations are being praised for their cultural connectedness, and hopefully will become available in English.

Ravasi is especially interesting because he has two Twitter accounts, in Italian and English, with 39.7k and 2.5k followers apiece. His English account was opened in September last year and maybe it served as a forerunner for Benedict XVI’s @Pontifex account, in nine languages, which launched three months later.

Next is Cardinal Odilo Scherer (age 63), Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, who has tweeted more than any other cardinal (1609 tweets in 18 months). Scherer posts in Portuguese, with quotes from the Gospels, greetings and encouragements to individuals, plus pictures which look like his own smartphone snaps. ‘Good Sunday to all “followers” by twitter!’ he tweeted over the weekend.

I’ve listed the 18 cardinals below (thanks, Fr James Bradley, for the extra cardinals since I first posted this), with the most-followed at the top. Fr James has a Twitter list of all the tweeting cardinals. Their average age is 70, while the average age of the college as a whole is said to be 78. Please let me know if you discover others not on the list and I’ll add them.

Noteworthy are Cardinal Mahony, retired Archbishop of Los Angeles, who is under pressure not to attend the conclave because of his actions in the child abuse scandal; and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, who has opened a Twitter account but has not yet issued forth a single tweet and is not accepting followers.

It’s the safest of safe bets that a Twitter silence will descend on all these accounts when the cardinals disappear into the conclave. But it will be fascinating to see which cardinal is first to tweet once the white smoke starts pumping from the Sistine Chapel roof. Maybe the tweets will be watched as keenly as the smoke.

Follow the cardinals to find out.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Archbishop of New York, USA
First tweet: May 12 | Followers: 84.1k

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi
President, Pontifical Council for Culture
First tweet: June 11 | Followers: 42.2k

Cardinal Odilo Scherer
Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil
First tweet: July 11 | Followers: 24.1k

Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley
Archbishop of Boston, USA
First tweet: Oct 10 | Followers: 10.5k

Cardinal Norberto Rivera
Archbishop of Mexico
First tweet: March 11 | Followers: 4.1k

Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier
Archbishop of Durban, South Africa
First tweet: July 11 | Followers: 3.7k

Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach
Archbishop of Barcelona, Spain
First tweet: March 12 | Followers: 3.0k

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez
Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
First tweet: Jan 12 | Followers: 2.8k

Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega
Archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico
First tweet: Mar 11 | Followers: 2.4k

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
Archbishop of the Philippines
First tweet: Nov 11 | Followers: 1.6k

Cardinal Roger Mahony
Retired Archbishop of Los Angeles, USA
First tweet: Jan 13 | Followers: 1.3k

Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk
Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands
First tweet: none yet | Followers: 1.0k

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
President, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
First tweet: Feb 13 | Followers: under 0.5k

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco
Archbishop of Genoa, Italy
First tweet: Jan 13 | Followers: under 0.5k

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State, Vatican
First tweet: Feb 13 | Followers: under 0.5k

Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington DC, USA
First tweet: July 11 | Followers: under 0.5k

Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez
Archbishop of Bogotá, Colombia
First tweet: Dec 12 | Followers: under 0.5k

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
Archbishop of Vienna, Austria
First tweet: none yet | Followers: under 0.5k

Photo: Cardinals at the Mass for the election of a Roman Pontiff by the Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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Photo of the Pope on a visit to Fatima
Tweeting the Pope

Posted on 06 December 2012, 4:40

Next Wednesday, an 85 year-old man will tweet and the media will report that it is news.

The Pope has debuted before on Twitter, in June 2011, when he sent a tweet to inaugurate the then-new Vatican news website, but this time he has his own Twitter account @pontifex. It’s clocked up half a million followers in the couple of days since the account opened for business.

That supernatural growth spurt is only one of the things that’s unusual about this account. For a start, it’s being run by a man who prefers writing in longhand to using a computer keyboard. And although the Vatican says the Pope ‘will tweet what he wants to tweet’, his involvement will be limited to signing off on the 140-character messages, which according to the Vatican Insider will be put together by staff in the Secretariat of State.

The Pope is apparently not going to follow anyone on Twitter. But actually, that’s not quite correct, as the @pontifex account is already following seven other people, who all turn out to be the @pontifex accounts in other languages. That means the Pope is following only himself, which isn’t very much in the spirit of things on Twitter.

Benedict will also not be retweeting anyone else’s tweets, although he will be replying to questions put to him on Twitter. That’s better than just delivering a monologue, although question and answer always puts the guy with the answers in the driving seat. Unsurprisingly, the @pontifex account has already been bombarded with questions and comments, ‘sometimes irreverent, often downright hateful’, according to Elizabeth Scalia, who blogs as The Anchoress.

The absence of retweeting, following others and actually writing your own tweets makes me wonder whether the whole exercise is for real. It certainly takes a lot of sincerity out it. I’m sure the more conservative sections of the Roman curia see this as a new megaphone for the Pope to deliver his one-way messages, but the world doesn’t work like that any more. It’s very Supreme Pontiff (pontifex maximus), and the @pontifex handle is a strong reminder of the worst aspects of the papacy.

However, there could be some promising signs. The Dalai Lama, who has thrived on Twitter for the past couple of years, is supported by a social media team which translates his teachings into tweets. That operation has not only worked well but seems to have been true to the Dalai Lama and true to the social medium too, so perhaps there is a model here that could work for Benedict. The Dalai Lama’s account, which follows 0 people and does not retweet, has 5.6 million followers, making him the 91st most followed person on Twitter.

The Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt yesterday offered five suggestions for the tweeting Pope. They included: engage in dialogue, be funny, and don’t be afraid. Says Vogt: ‘If you’re simply pushing out information, you’re not using Twitter’s full potential. The great power of Twitter is that it puts you in dialogue with a billion Catholics around the world – and billions of non-Catholics – most of whom see you as distant and inaccessible.’

The Pope has I think distinguished himself in reflecting on Internet culture over the past few years in his messages on World Communications Day. In his 2011 message, he talked positively about the way people can connect with each other through social media. He said: ‘Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others.’

If Benedict can turn that thought into action by breaking out of the confines of his office and finding an authentically human way of communicating with the social media world, that would be a very hopeful sign.

It’s a big thing to hope, but if the Dalai Lama can do it, maybe the Pope can too.

And while they’re about it, perhaps they could follow each other.

Photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

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Photo of a cross in the clouds, with more than a little help from Photoshop
Piety builds audiences

Posted on 07 June 2012, 5:56

Which generates more social engagement: vacuous tweets by celebs with tens of millions of Twitter followers, or motivational tweets by religious leaders with followers in the thousands?

According to On Twitter, God is Greater than Glitter, a New York Times story, it’s the religious tweets which win out, with huge numbers of retweets and favoriting. All of which must be making the angels cheer while Lady Gaga and Rihanna slink back to their gilded hotel rooms sick with envy.

However, when you read the detail of the story, it quickly hits you that the religious tweets are really nothing to tweet about. Here’s Rick Warren’s offering, for example, which apparently gained a huge number of retweets…

Growing older is automatic. Growing up is a choice.

Meanwhile, Joyce Meyer opines…

God’s timing is perfect; He is never late…

Rick and Joyce may have 626,000 and 993,000 followers respectively, but on this evidence they are sending their followers tweets straight out of The Book of Well, Duh. (In fairness to Rick, not all his posts are this saccharine.) At least Lady Gaga’s tweet, which revealed that she glued pearls to a mask on a flight to Korea, was personal and intriguing, even if it didn’t raise a storm of retweeting.

But Rick and Joyce are not alone. You don’t have to search very hard on Twitter to find its deep stream of piety, with people happily announcing 24/7 that God never closes a window without opening a door (which frankly makes him sound a bit OCD), that they’re not looking for a hole in the ground but a hole in the sky, and that the Lord never sends us burdens greater than we can carry – an observation coined in the days before God gave us suitcases on wheels.

But out cliché-ing everyone else in social media is Jesus Daily, a Facebook page with approaching 13 million likes. Founded by Dr Aaron Tabor, an anti-aging skincare specialist, Jesus Daily was crowned most engaging page on Facebook in 2011, smiting Justin Bieber and Real Madrid into 5th and 8th places respectively.

Jesus Daily builds its incredible social engagement by posting platitudes, questions with ‘right answers’ and kitschy pictures of puppies, kittens and crosses in clouds (see above), all with the relentless invitation to LIKE. For example…


LIKE if everyone should be able to read the Bible!


LIKE if you thank God for great mothers! We love you.



That last example received 241,328 likes, 4,163 comments and 19,959 shares, which makes the Jesus Daily brand a Facebook success by any measure. But its easy piety, offered every day to its ‘me too!’ audience, is like shooting ichthus fish in a barrel. The page’s creators know exactly what to say and show to manipulate their followers, and the truthlets they peddle are so worn down by mindless repetition that the main thing they do is make people feel nice about their faith.

That, of course, is what piety always does. It pressures you to agree with its simple beliefs and then reassures you that you – along with 241,328 others! – are an accepted member of your religious tribe. Praise the Lord! Clicking that LIKE button tells me I’m among the countless saved, rather than the damned!

It reminds me of that joke: ‘Eat shit. One million ants can’t be wrong.’

Piety is a fake form of faith, as it can never be true to the messy experience of people who live as fallen human beings struggling in their journey to God. Jesus always resisted piety and instead said awkward and difficult things which were not designed to build audiences. He was the polar opposite to Jesus Daily, with its oppressively positive tone, not to mention its pictures of Jesus with shampooed hair, dirt-free fingernails and rugged good looks.

I know I’ve gone for the negative in this post, but for me piety has always been one of the big enemies of faith. I take from it all the challenge of communicating a truly human faith in the different online worlds we live in.

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Picture of the dove-shaped cloud
God indicates that Twitter is cool

Posted on 17 September 2010, 15:44

A new sign has been vouchsafed to us in the form of a dove-shaped cloud in the sky. John Gray, a former RAF photographer (and former Catholic), spotted the cloud from his back garden on Wednesday night, the eve of the Pope arriving in Britain. His interpretation? ‘When I saw it I thought that it probably signifies what the Pope needs – a bit of peace and happiness.’

However, with all due respect to Mr Gray, it’s surely clear that the cloud is not any old dove, but the Twitter logo. God is saying to this generation: ‘Twitter is my fave social media. Go forth and tweet.’ The sign must also be confirmation that the Almighty is pleased with the new version of Twitter, which is being rolled out in the next few days.

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Picture inside the BBC green room
Twitter and Radio 4

Posted on 17 September 2010, 5:23

Above: the Green Room at BBC Radio 4 this afternoon.

An interesting day of new meets old media. The Pope landed in Edinburgh at 10.30am for the start of his state visit to Britain, and while the plane was still in the air I thought I’d tweet his arrival for the Ship of Fools feed. I’ve done this a couple of times now: posted a fast-running Twitter commentary as events unfold – but you have to be light on your feet to think up the jokes in time, and willing to risk looking stupid when some of them fall flat.

In all, I posted 19 tweets, taking us from the Pope’s plane landing, to him meeting the Queen, and then on to lunch via a Popemobile dash through the packed streets of Edinburgh. The most successful were (these all got 10+ retweets)...

shipoffoolscom Dove One has touched down in Edinburgh after some tense moments with air traffic control, who do not speak Latin.

shipoffoolscom The Pope is meeting the lovely old Queen. Which must happen to him every 5 mins in the corridors of the Vatican.

shipoffoolscom Queen to Pope: ‘And what do you do?’

shipoffoolscom Archbishop Rowan says through spokesman that he would have had a haircut and beard trim, but only does it for special occasions.

shipoffoolscom Papal lunch menu: Aperitif: Bloody Mary. Starter: Eggs Benedict/Ratzatouille. Main: Stake (rare nowadays) with Newman potatoes.

In the middle of all that intensity, I got a call from PM on Radio 4 (their late afternoon show) inviting me to go in and talk about the Ship of Fools papal tat. In the taxi on the way to the Beeb, I thought up a nice comedy scenario where the Pope jumps into the mosh pit at one of his masses to ‘get with the faithful’. I didn’t think I’d get a chance to use it, but Carolyn Quinn (interviewing) gave me the perfect in just before the end of the piece, and I took it with both hands.

PM interview – listen to it here.

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Holy Communion… in six tweets

Posted on 07 September 2010, 0:36

My piece about online communion has just been published on Ship of Fools. A shorter version was published in the Church Times a couple of weeks ago, and is now available on the Church Times website.

Revd Tim Ross, whose idea for a Twitter communion service sparked the whole thing off, gave me permission (thanks, Tim) to put his Twitter liturgy online, so here it is. The service was to be delivered in six tweets, and I assume there was to be a short gap of a few minutes between each tweet.

Father of us all, your people round the world join together in praising you. God of wonder, we marvel at your grace, power and love.

From the depths of loving grace you gave us Jesus, your Son, our Saviour. Dying, he brought us forgiveness. Rising, he brings us new life.

In this simple meal, we remember what Jesus shared with his followers and all that you share with us now in his name.

Fill us with your Spirit and through his power, bless these gifts of bread and wine to us.

The body of Christ was given for you. (Take bread) The blood of Christ was shed for you. (Take wine)

Thank you that you are our Manna and our Daily Bread. May our food be doing your will and your joy our source of strength.

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Screen grab of the Ship of Fools joke among the top tweets
Stephen Hawking is trending

Posted on 03 September 2010, 21:03

Ever since Stephen Hawking announced that the universe has no need of God – ‘It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going,’ he says in his new book, The Grand Design – I’ve been puzzling over how to make a joke about it on the Ship of Fools Twitter feed. Today I came up with an amusing line I liked and posted it late morning…

Stephen Hawking in Ikea. Hawking: ‘This table easy to put together?’ Assistant: ‘So easy it assembles itself.’ Boom boom.

Just after hitting the Tweet button, I looked down the page and realised Stephen Hawking was trending worldwide, and at the top of the list. So far as I know, he’s been trending for two days now. Because of that, the joke collected a lot of retweets very quickly, and became one of Twitter’s top tweets of the day (currently approaching 120 retweets, including old-style RTs and new style button retweets).

This is easily our most succesful tweet to date, so there’s a lot to learn from here. We’ve also collected 32 new followers and counting since the tweet was posted, which is another record for us.

Following all this gave me a chance of seeing how lucrative an issue this is becoming for Hawking (who is surely now going to see royalties of a Dawkins magnitude), and how theists and atheists were tweeting each other to death over it in real time. Here are some of the tweets which caught my eye…

RichaelGimbang Someone oughta pray for that Stephen Hawking guy. He just bought front row tickets to catch Hell. Again.

Nnewibruv Stephen Hawking says there is no God… that gravity helped create the Universe… errr… who created gravity??

EricStangel Stephen Hawking says there is no God. I guess that A-Hole has never eaten at the Cheesecake Factory. [If someone knows what this much-retweeted comment means, do let me know.]

jeffward05 I wonder if I should believe Stephen Hawking or a youth group leader with a jesus tatoo, a soul patch, and an acoustic guitar.

sazzadee Perhaps Stephen Hawking is just annoyed because the stairway to heaven has no ramp access.

And finally, some wisdom…

petsnakereggie I feel all the inevitable refutations of Stephen Hawking should begin “Stephen Hawking, who is a way fucking smarter than me, said…”

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picture of the rev tim ross
Communion on Twitter

Posted on 19 August 2010, 23:17

Writing my piece for the Church Times about the cancelled Twitter Communion, I talked with Rev Tim Ross (pictured above) on the phone about his thinking behind the project.

One of the questions I asked was whether Twitter was an appropriate medium for communion, which for me has always been a very reflective experience, while Twitter can be pretty noisy and fast-paced. I notice that Tim is currently following 1,945 people, which must make his feed quite busy.

He said, ‘I find Twitter quite intimate, as many people have asked for prayer in response to what I’ve been posting.’ His posts to date have been a mix of the Lord’s Prayer in contemporary language, individual prayers, and a service of prayer for Christian unity and vision.

Tim told me he especially likes the SMS-like brevity of tweets, the instantaneous nature of Twitter and the around-the-globe audience you reach whenever you click the Tweet button. These qualities gave him the idea for attempting his communion service.

‘We have to be careful about making communion too parochial,’ he said. ‘If we think it can only be expressed in a local body, that narrows our horizons. The teaching of Paul, that we are all one body, is about a deeper connectivity that goes around the world. The community of saints is bigger and broader than our geographical constraints.’

When I pointed out that the sense of community on Twitter is bound to be greatly diluted when compared to the average local church, he responded, ‘You can take communion alongside people all the time in a local church without knowing who they are.’

That observation really does ring a bell for me. One constant I’ve noticed over the years of talking about online religion is that the opponents of virtual church demand much higher standards of community than you will ever find in a local congregation.

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picture of the online church, church of fools, with people kneeling in the chancel
Pixellated bread, tweeted wine

Posted on 06 August 2010, 18:39

Last week, a Twitter communion service scheduled for 14 August was called off after the UK Methodist Church pulled the virtual plug. The service was the brainchild of Rev Tim Ross, a Methodist minister, and as far as I know would have been a first for Twitter.

Tim explained on his Twitter Communion website: ‘Whilst I have not been absolutely forbidden to perform the Communion on Twitter, British Methodist Church authorities have strongly urged me to cancel it. The main reason for this, they say, is that it comes at difficult time, because the whole issue of performing services like Twitter Communion over the Internet is being re-examined by the Methodist Church.’

I’m writing a piece for the Church Times about virtual communion: mad, bad or fab? And including the current state of play on the subject in some of the online churches, including St Pixels, i-church and the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life. I’m collecting material for that over the next few days, so if you have a story to tell about online communion or virtual worship, or want to say what you think about the pros and cons, please comment below.

When we launched Church of Fools in 2004, we did think about installing a pool baptistery (as we’d already made a virtual swimming pool for The Ark), but decided we’d have enough to worry about in just doing 3D church – which proved to be right. Church of Fools was partly sponsored by the Methodist Church, so I’m especially interested to hear that they’re now making cautious noises about online worship.

Picture: Church of Fools publicity shot

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