With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 3, 2013
While Twitter is a popular medium for linking to the latest, breaking news, sometimes the tweets themselves are the news. Pope Francis made headlines today with his clear, resonant, unequivocal message in a tweet posted at 9:15am Tuesday: “With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons.” Sparking both supportive and flagrant reactions throughout Twitter, the controversial tweet resulted in 4,674 retweets and 2,677 favorites. The tweet, which accompanies his resonant call for peace in Syria in Sunday sermons in St. Peter’s Square, is the Pope’s 138th tweet since he assumed the papacy in March. The LA Times quotes the pope’s sermon: “Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: It is the cry for peace!”
The tweet condemning the use of chemical weapons followed a similarly passionate tweet posted Monday, where he says, “War never again! Never again war!” Twitter users have compared the language in this tweet as “yoda-like,” including British author, Owen Jones. Arguing for the deeper significance of the tweet, writer Rosie Scammell of “The Local” of Italy says that the tweet is “a fluid message to all of his followers.. used to refer to Argentina’s military dictatorship, which ruled between 1976 and `83, during which time thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ ” The tweet has richer meaning beyond the unusual syntax, which baffled some Twitter users and positively inspired others.
Twitter is a communication platform for those in the public sphere, not only those in the entertainment industry, but those in the religious vocation and public service as well. The Pope’s Twitter channel is usually used to tweet religious messages consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. This time, moved by the issue of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the pope used Twitter as a mouthpiece to reach not only his Twitter followers and the Catholic faithful, but also the rest of the world.
In a much more cryptic message, he tweeted Monday, “How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake.” The Pope is indeed being true to Jesus’ call to his disciples to be “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.” When people’s lives are on the line, the leader of one of the largest religious groups in the world took it upon him to use his influence to spread a message of hope and peace. He may also be channeling a frustration felt by many religious leaders. Jesuit priest Father Thomas Reese expressed the ambivalence of religious leaders “on whether there exists moral justification for an attack on Syria.” Carol Williams of the LA Times writes, “[Reese] found the religious leaders to be deeply frustrated by the lack of viable options for preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction and the uncertain consequences that would follow airstrikes that neither destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles nor create conditions for negotiating an end to the war.” Perhaps, in this practical dilemma, the only thing we can be certain of is that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, and in the Pope’s words, to be “condemned.”