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Pope Benedict XVI unleashed on Twitter

Send up the white smoke signals, the Pope has made a decision - to join Twitter.

Less than a month after reports of Pope Benedict XVI debating a username, the 85-year-old has officially signed on to the micro-blogging service.

Using the personal handle @Pontifex, Benedict will tweet in eight languages, beginning 12 December, and plans to answer questions about faith from those who use the hashtag #AskPontifex. Just 24 hours after the Vatican's announcement, the Pope has garnered more than 350,000 followers on his English account.

"The Pope's presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena," a translated Vatican press release said. "This initiative is best understood in the context of his reflections on the importance of the cultural space that has been brought into being by the new technologies."

The barren Twitter page is currently absent of any messages - not even a warm, 140-character welcome. The pope is also only following seven accounts - his own. He has procured eight screen names in total, including those that will tweet his messages in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Polish, and Arabic.

Twitter members include a number of spiritual and religious, according to Claire Diaz Ortiz, manager of social innovation, including the Dalai Lama, who joined in 2009.

"From globally recognized names to local pastors and faith groups, a wide range of spiritual leaders embrace Twitter to minister to their communities and share meaningful messages," Ortiz wrote in a blog post.

Next week's session may make history, but it will actually mark the second-ever tweet Benedict has sent. He first posted a message in June 2011 in an effort to help promote the Vatican's new website.

Questions for the Pope will be curated by the Vatican staff, Ortiz said; he will respond in a live tweeting event following his weekly audience next week.

"The Pope's presence on Twitter means that no matter where you live or where you are, you can connect with, and get inspiration directly from, one of the world's most influential religious leaders," Ortiz said.

Benedict has already found the Twitter support of the Huffington Post's religion section, as well as the official Catholic Relief international humanitarian agency, and American actor Jason Biggs.

Homepage image: Flickr - The Papal Visit