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Pope sees opportunities, dangers in social networks

Catholic World News - January 24, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI strongly endorsed Christians participation in online social networks, but also strongly cautioned against the dangers of superficial relationships, in his message for the 45th World Day of Social Communications.

"New horizons are now open that were until recently unimaginable,” the Pope said; “they stir our wonder at the possibilities offered by these new media and, at the same time, urgently demand a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age.”

Pope Benedict observed that the new possibilities of electronic communication create extraordinary possibilities for apostolic work: “If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.”

However, the Pope warned users—and especially young people—that social networks suffer from “the limits typical of digital communication: the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one's interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence.”

The papal message, entitled "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age," was released by the Vatican on January 24: the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.

The Pope observed that modern technology is changing not only the means of communication but also its content. The result raises a host of serious questions, he said, listing a number of them:

Who is my 'neighbor' in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world 'other' than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.

To counteract the temptation toward superficiality in communications, the Pope reminded Catholics that they should hold fast to the principles of their faith. Moreover, in seeking to share that faith, Catholics engaged in discussions on social networks must avoid the temptation to measure their success by immediate results. “We must be aware,” he said, “that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its 'popularity' or from the amount of attention it receives.”

Despite the inherent dangers of this means of communication, Pope Benedict urged young Catholics to use the social networks as a means to promote the Gospel message. The presence of faithful Christians on these networks, he said, should counteract their dangers. He explained:

Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others.

At a press conference in Rome introducing the papal message, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, observed that new internet options “alter not only the way we communicate, but communication itself.” The result, he said, is “an authentic cultural transformation.”

During the press conference, Archbishop Celli was questioned about the Pope’s calls for “respectful and sensitive” communication on the internet. Was this a reference to the often acerbic tone of many blogs, he was asked? “The risk is there, no doubt,” the archbishop replied. An AP report took that mild and general response as evidence that the papal statement was intended as a reproach to conservative Catholic bloggers-- disregarding the obvious fact that the Pope's words apply with equal force to dissident Catholic liberals, and to non-Catholics as well.

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  • Posted by: Defender - Jan. 25, 2011 12:21 AM ET USA

    Unfortunately, there are many who lead our schools that have embraced technology to the point that it seems being Catholic is secondary. What of confessions done over the internet? How about Mass on U-Tube satisfying your Sunday obligation? When and where does it stop?

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