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Pope on Twitter: 187,000 followers (so far), not one tweet

Pope Benedict XVI has joined Twitter and is logging followers at a breakneck pace more than a week before he is scheduled to post his first tweet.

Pope Benedict XVI has joined Twitter and already has 187,000 followers. But he won't post his first tweet until December 12. Screen shot by CNET

When the pope speaks in public, it's a major event. That's why tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people are sure to gather in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican in the hours before the pontiff appears there.

So it should come as no surprise that with the announcement today that Pope Benedict XVI has officially joined Twitter -- and will be live-tweeting responses to questions during an event on December 12 -- more than 187,000 people have already followed his account (@pontifex).

Consider it the digital version of massive crowds waiting patiently for His Holiness to come out on the balcony and share his wisdom with the world, given that until December 12, the pope's tweet count is expected to stay at zero.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, but it seems likely that the pope's account has already collected one of the largest groups of followers without posting any tweets in the service's history.

Of course, purists will recall that Pope Benedict XVI has, in fact, tweeted once before, just not from his own account. On June 28, 2011, tweeting from the Vatican's official account, the pontiff did share 140 holy characters, greeting the world with these words: "Dear Friends, I just launched Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI."

The Pope on Twitter: 187,000 followers so far, and not a single tweet. Screenshot by CNET

But that was just a prelude. Few had gathered in waiting for his empty-calorie greeting, and then he was gone. Now, though, the pope will have an account that's easy to monitor, and though he likely won't be doing much tweeting himself, he'll have minions who will probably post regularly on his behalf.

But while we wait to hear what he has to say, we'll be very interested to see just how many followers come along before that first tweet is posted. Could he hit a million? God only knows.