ROME -- After struggling with the touch screen of an iPad, Pope Benedict XVI dispatched his first Twitter message on Wednesday. "Dear friends," it read, "I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."
Sitting at a desk in the Vatican hall where he holds his weekly audience, the pontiff, 85, touched the iPad with a wavering hand adorned with a large gold ring, as the audience applauded.
Video footage showed that the pope seemed confused and had trouble hitting "send," forcing Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, to step in and touch the screen to send the first papal message.
Last week, the Vatican announced that Benedict, who writes in longhand, would begin posting messages on Twitter in eight languages under the handle @pontifex, a Latin term for pope that means "bridge-builder." Claire Díaz-Ortiz, the director of social innovation at Twitter, was present at the ceremony.
Later on Wednesday, the pope responded to questions that included the hashtag #askpontifex. "How can faith in Jesus be lived in a world without hope?" the pope wrote in one post. "By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need."
In another, Benedict said: "We can be certain that a believer is never alone. God is the solid rock upon which we build our lives and his love is always faithful."
The Vatican has said that the pope will be using Twitter to engage with the Catholic Church's 1.2 billion followers.
The pope gained more than 200,000 followers on Wednesday alone, pushing him above 800,000 in English, more than Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, with 65,800 followers, but less than Justin Bieber, who has 31 million.
The Twitterati had a field day with the pope's postings. "@Pontifex tweets from a tablet? Big deal: Moses had two," wrote Jared Keller, the director of social media at Bloomberg L.P. "If someone gets blocked by @Pontifex on Twitter ... does that mean they're automatically excommunicated?" another user wrote.
Earlier this year, the satirical newspaper The Onion published an article that said, "Pope tweets picture of self with God."
The Vatican has said that the pope will not follow anyone on Twitter, or retweet messages. A Vatican official has said that papal Twitter messages, as with everything written by the pope, will be part of the church's teachings, but that they will not be infallible.
Others used Twitter to send messages to the pope criticizing the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse scandal and the church's ban on condom use. In Italy, many sent complaints that the church does not have to pay most property taxes.
Benedict will be posting messages in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. Other languages are expected to be added in the future.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.