Pope Benedict XVI has joined social networking site Twitter.

The Pope's Twitter handle has been announced as @pontifex.

The Vatican said the Pope will start tweeting on 12 December, the feast of the Madonna of Guadalupe.

"The handle is a good one. It means 'Pope' and it also means 'bridge builder'," said Greg Burke, senior media adviser to the Vatican.

A priest from Co Meath played a key role in launching the Pope's personal twitter account.

Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, accompanied Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi and other senior officials at the press conference in the Holy See's press office marking the occasion.

The Navan native said the tweets will always have the Pope's engagement and approval.

The first papal tweets will be answers to questions sent to #@pontifex.

The tweets will be going out in Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Arabic and French.

Other languages will be added in the future.

"We are going to get a spiritual message. The Pope is not going to be walking around with a Blackberry or an iPad and no one is going to be putting words into the Pope's mouth. He will tweet what he wants to tweet," Mr Burke said.

The tweets will come from the contents of his weekly general audience, Sunday blessings and homilies on major church holidays.

They will also include reaction to major world events, such as natural disasters.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion or so Roman Catholics will not send the tweets himself, but he will sign off on them before they are sent in his name.

The Vatican has been increasing its presence in social media, using YouTube channels and Facebook pages for special events and Twitter to engage believers and nonbelievers alike, particularly the young.

The Vatican decided against using a personal Facebook page for the pope because they thought it was too personal an interaction and would require more manpower to keep updated.