Today Pope Benedict XVI, now taking on the title of Pope Emeritus, left Vatican City to start his retirement, making him the first pope in 600 years to resign from the papacy.
Many people took to Twitter and Facebook today to share the news and to offer well wishes. News stations tweeted that they were showing live footage of Pope Benedict leaving Vatican City and arriving at Castel Gandolfo, where he gave his final address and will reside for the next two months. The last tweet from @Pontifex went out as Pope Benedict flew by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo, and the phrases “#ThanksPontifex” and “Pope Benedict XVI” were tweeted throughout the day and began trending in the United States by mid-afternoon. The name associated with the “@Pontifex” Twitter handle now says “Sede Vacante,” and will likely be changed when the next pope is elected.
For a lot of people, Pope Benedict’s resignation is kind of a big deal.
The announcement of the pope emeritus’ resignation and his last day as pope was heavily driven by social media, and it is clear that the election of the next pope will be all over Facebook and Twitter as well. Though the date is not set yet, the papal conclave to decide the pope emeritus’ successor will take place shortly. This year, the enormous crowd that will gather in St. Peter’s Square will have the ability to take clear photos with their Smartphones, update their Facebook statuses, and send tweets throughout the proceedings. The average social media user will have the opportunity to break the news when the next pope is elected; it doesn’t matter if it’s a news source or the first person to see white smoke curl out of the Sistine Chapel’s chimney.
While the world waits for the College of Cardinals to make their decision, the powerful force of social media and the Internet will allow user-generated content to announce the new pope faster than ever before.