The rapture is coming! The rapture is coming! No, wait. False alarm. It’s just the Pope tweeting on an iPad as the Vatican tries to reach out to a younger audience.

The Pope has gone viral. In a YouTube video released this week, Pope Benedict XVI, 84 years old, can be seen learning how to use an iPad to tweet. He writes: “Dear Friends, I just launched www.news.va. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.”

News.va is the new site developed by the Vatican’s Pontical Council for Social Communications (proving that every organization needs a social media department). The site is white and yellow, the Vatican’s colours, and it brings together information from several outlets including radio, television, and print. It also makes use of social media and includes Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

The website is one of several Internet initiatives launched by the Vatican. Another site includes information about miracles attributed to Pope John Paul II. And that’s not all. Pope Benedict also produced podcasts before his trip to Portugal last year. Then, of course, there is the Confessions App. The app is “designed to be used in the confessional, this app is the perfect aid for every penitent. With a personalized examination of conscience for each user, password protected profiles, and a step-by-step guide to the sacrament, this app invites Catholics to prayerfully prepare for and participate in the Rite of Penance.”

All of the new technology proves that the Pope is a man who practices what he preaches. Last year, in an address from the 44th World Communications Day, he said: “The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace.”

His speech wasn’t just a passing suggestion about how members of the church should move forward; it was also a call to action, “Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.”

It’s hard to believe the 84 year old Pope used the term “digital marketplace”, but he’s right. There is speculation that the social media blitz is an attempt to combat some of the negative publicity the Catholic Church has received due to paedophilia scandals in recent years. Others simply see the social media effort as a way to reach out to a younger generation of Catholics. Regardless, there’s no doubt that the Vatican’s Internet presence is an interesting step for religion online. Will other religious leaders and organizations follow suit? Only time will tell. What is certain is that the increasing presence of social media is so prevalent that not having a voice online means not having a voice at all