(USA TODAY) -- Pope Benedict XVI fired off seven tweets Wednesday from his new personal account, adding social-media zip to his campaign to inspire the Catholic faithful.
By midnight in Rome he was closing in on 1.6 million worldwide followers, including almost 1 million at the English-language account, @pontifex.
More than 50,000 people forwarded his blessing to the Twittersphere. And about 35,000 retweets helped spread his advice on faith and prayer in challenging times, not counting the other seven languages of the spiritual missives.
The words were simple. Benedict began with a blessing to his "dear friends" and went on to highlight three answers to questions posed using #askpontifex. The tweets were spaced to hit different time zones in prime time.
He advised: Listen to Jesus and (look) for him in those in need.
He reassured: God is a rock "and his love is always faithful."
He encouraged a busy mom: "Offer everything you do to the Lord, ask his help in all the circumstances of daily life and remember that he is always beside you."
Wednesday evening, that busy mother of three tots, Linda Binggeli, of Lee's Summit, Mo., said, "I still can't believe" that Benedict chose her Dec. 6 question. She had asked for "any suggestions on how to be more prayerful when we are so busy with the demands of work, families and the world?"
As one leading Catholic blogger, Elizabeth Scalia, noted, "That's theology, baby!"
Scalia, blogging as The Anchoress, says Benedict's tweets convey the same essence of the faith as 17th century St. Teresa of Avila, who once said, in nine characters, "It's love."
That's also strategy. All the questions he answered were originally posted by followers from the West, where Benedict is concentrating his "new evangelism" campaign to revive lapsed Catholics' faith and practice.
The pope also changed up his handle. He's composed and approved tweets since June 2010, but they were posted on Vatican Twitter accounts and went, by social-media measures, nowhere.
This time -- with some back-channel hand-holding by Twitter staff -- Benedict established a sense of personal connection. John Allen, veteran Vatican specialist for the National Catholic Reporter, called this "obviously an attempt by the Pope to meet people where they are, and the strong early response would suggest there's a market for it. ... For an institution that's often accused of being behind the curve ... it's a fairly remarkable effort to catch up."
It worked for @pontifex follower Kathryn Whitaker, 38, a mother of five, ages three to 11, in Austin. She said Binggeli's tweet to the the pope about finding time for prayer sounded just like her life.
Whitaker says the pope's "very thought-provoking" replies were "profound messages in simple words. They were really engaging and that's the whole point of social media."
"He is a massive spiritual figure in our culture. We can't expect him to be Kim Kardashian or (pastor of the nation's largest evangelical megachurch) Joel Osteen. He represents more than a billion Catholics. He has bigger things to do than answer Twitter. So I am excited about what this means for the Church and bringing people back to the faith."