Salvation – or at least a shorter stay in Purgatory – might now be only a tweet away with news that Pope Francis is to offer “indulgences” – remissions for temporary punishment – to the faithful who follow him on the social media site.
Around 1.5 million are expected to flock to Rio de Janeiro to celebrate World Youth Day with the Argentine pontiff later this month. But for those who can’t make it to Brazil, forgiveness may be available to contrite sinners who follow Francis’s progress via their TV screen or social networks.
The Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican court that rules on the forgiveness of sins, has said that indulgences may be given to those who follow the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media.
The Penitentiary said that Pope Francis' Twitter account, which has already gathered seven million followers, would be one such medium.
Vatican officials, noted however, that to obtain indulgences over the internet or otherwise, believers would first have to confess their sins, offer prayers and attend Mass.
“You can't obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine,” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Pope Francis is forgoing his bulletproof popemobile for his upcoming trip to Brazil for the Catholic Church's youth festival.
The Argentine pontiff will instead use the same open-topped car he uses for travelling around St Peter's Square when he arrives in Rio de Janeiro on July 22.
In recent times, popes have always used the protected popemobile for trips outside Rome, but Francis ended the tradition when he used an open-topped Fiat during his recent visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Francis has made a point of tweaking Vatican protocol, especially where it concerns the trappings of the papacy and his ability to connect with ordinary people.
Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi announced the change during a briefing about the pope's July 22-28 trip.