Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope with his own Twitter account, tweeted a final goodbye Thursday morning before taking the almost unprecedented step of retiring from the papacy:
Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.
— Benedict XVI (@Pontifex) February 28, 2013
Benedict promised in a Thursday speech “unconditional reverence and obedience” towards his yet-unchosen successor, who will be picked by a conclave of cardinals expected to begin deliberations in a few weeks. It has been 600 years since a pope retired from the position, making this particular conclave a unique event in modern Catholicism.
Benedict made social media history as as the first pope to tweet and the first pope with his own Twitter account, @Pontifex. @Pontifex has nearly 1.6 million followers on the English-language account and several hundred thousand more across eight other-language accounts, sending less than 40 tweets since the account was created.
The entire Twitter history of Pope Benedict XVI has been deleted today from the @Pontifex account. No official statement has yet explained why Benedict’s past tweets were deleted. The name on the account has also been changed to “Sede Vacante,” which in Italian means “vacant seat.” To read the old tweets, there’s a link to the Vatican’s official news website, where they are all stored.
At the same time, and contrary to what was reported before, the account will not immediately be shut down now that Benedict has retired, according to Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
“During the period between today and the election of new pope the account will be inactive,” he wrote in an email to Forbes, “not shut down.”
The next Pope, who hasn’t been chosen yet, will decide whether to continue using Twitter.
Did you follow the pope on Twitter? What would your last tweet be if you were retiring?