To world-wide surprise, Pope Benedict XVI resigned on February 11, 2012 citing weak mental and physical strength as the reason. He becomes the first pope to resign voluntarily since Celestine V in 1294. In this story, one day before the resignation, we are invited into the Pope’s last Twitter session with his social media assistant.
“The Pope’s Last Tweet”
Like it had done with Kobe and many other important figures, the world had pressured and cornered the Pope into opening a Twitter account. To some internal criticism, the Pope finally agreed to this after learning of its mass appeal and the opportunity it had to communicate with the world. He intended to advise them in 140 characters or less, seeing as how his academic papers were too long for popular consumption. On Dec 12, 2012—12/12/12–his first tweet read, “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for the generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”
While he initially sent out his own personal tweets, over the next couple of days Vatican communications hired a qualified Social Media Manager for the Holy Father. This new social media guru was to manage all of the Pope’s twitter accounts and relay a number of the day’s replies to the Pope during their regular tweet session before lunch. During this time, the Pope would also inform him of the day’s new tweet, if any.
On February 10th, the Pope and his twitter assistant, Giovanni Dino, met in his private study at a scheduled time. The pope had just read a controversial article published by Il Fatto Quotidiano, an Italian paper, claiming to have uncovered an assassination plot against him. The paper accused Cardinal Paolo Romeo to have predicted, during a trip to China, that the Pope’s death would come in no later than 12 months. It went on to suggest the existence of many power struggles within the Vatican City.
Wanting a distraction from this, he looked forward to seeing Giovanni, who was sitting at his desk. “How was the response to Wednesday’s message?” the Pope asked Giovanni. The Pope’s Wednesday Twitter message had read, “Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace.”
Pope Benedict XVI noticed hesitation in Giovanni, who was facing downward. He stayed silent and waited for him.
“There was a lot of discussion,” Giovanni said. “People don’t easily trust their dependence on the Creator, your Holy Father.”
“It is only if they recognize this, will they find freedom and peace,” the Pope said. Giovanni faced down again. Normally, Giovanni would share the best messages with the Pope, and only shared few of the concerns by the people. Today his hesitation grew into a physical presence in the study. “How many relayed this message to others, Giovanni?” the Pope asked to get him to talk.
“10,000 retweeted this message around the world, Holy Father.”
“Giovanni, we must face our fears,” the Pope said. “Share freely their responses so that I may know their distress and give counsel to your worries.”
Finding the courage to show him all of the responses, Giovanni opened his laptop and faced the screen toward the Pope. In it, the pope read:
— MarketPlunger (@MarketPlunger) Link to Tweet no longer exists. Originally published February 6, 2013
“She had a difficult time with the word ‘only’, Holy Father,” Giovanni said. They then scrolled down and read more.
@pontifex What of the many people who experience oppression, restricted freedoms, and unrest, as a result of religion’s imposed rules?
.@pontifex Is that what your rapist employees tell the choir boys? “Calm down Timmy, like everything, me raping you is a gift for god”.
The Pope scrolled down to read many such more, then slowly stood and walked to the small window of his study. Giovanni, feeling ashamed, turned the computer away and waited for instruction.
The Pope looked down on St. Peter’s Square and at the masses still huddled around it under the sun. He didn’t say a word for several minutes. He thought about tomorrow, how it would all turn out. He wondered about the conspiracy against him. Then he recognized that Giovanni needed counsel.
“Giovanni,” he said, turning. “The people expect excellence. I have found freedom and peace through my dependence on the Creator, and everything I have received has been a gift from Him. Freedom and peace does not mean excellence. We are imperfect and must put our faith in Him. I have a new message for our followers,” he said.
Giovanni quickly opened the laptop and prepared to tweet.
“This one is as much for us, as it is for them,” he said, and had Giovanni tweet to the world:
We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.
— Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) Link to Tweet no longer exists. It was originally published on February 10, 2013
On February 11th, 2012 his Holy Father rose at 6:00 a.m. and began his day with Morning Prayer. He then washed, dressed and entered his private chapel to celebrate Mass with his personal secretaries and assistants. After a simple breakfast at 8 a.m., he headed to his study to begin his day’s work. He edited the statement he had written yesterday once Giovanni had left and after his walk, one that he would announce this morning. In it, he included:
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
Published Feb. 13, 2012. Image courtesy of Catholic Church (England and Wales)