Twitter’s message limit of 140 text characters is ideally suited to the brief attention spans of these relentlessly distracted times. But an 85-year-old man will soon re-confirm another trend: This social media craze is no longer limited to the young.

Pope Benedict XVI will start posting tweets on Wednesday under “the handle” @pontifex, a term that means “bridge builder” in Latin.

That Monday announcement from the Vatican reveals another modernizing attempt by a generally old-school pontiff, born in 1927, to reach 2012 audiences. The pope plans to accept questions about matters of faith via the hashtag #askpontifex. Presumably, he’ll offer uplifting insights designed to bring souls who have strayed back into the fold.

It’s a market-driven move: The Roman Catholic Church, like many mainstream Christian denominations, has experienced a decline in youth membership over the last decade or so.

From the Vatican’s statement: “The pope’s presence on Twitter can be seen as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ that is the church’s presence in the world of new media.”

That papal Twitter presence initially will be expressed in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish, with more languages to come.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, who said the pope will “engage and approve” messages drafted for him by his aides, explained: “The pope is not the kind of person like the rest of us who in a meeting or a lunch is looking at their BlackBerrys to see if any messages have come in. He is not walking around with an iPad, but all the pope’s tweets are the pope’s words.”

And Msgr. Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said that while Pope Benedict’s tweets will be “pearls of wisdom,” they should not be perceived as “infallible” Catholic doctrine.

They can, however, fairly be perceived as an encouraging sign of linguistic brevity by a particularly prominent man of the cloth.

After all, when’s the last time you heard a sermon of only 140 characters?