Pope Benedict says the internet has fundamentally changed the way people communicate.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict has invited Christians to join online social networks in order to spread the Gospel through digital media and discover “an entirely new world of potential friendships.”
At the same time, the pope warned of the limits and the dangers of digital communication, including the risks of constructing a false online image and of replacing direct human contact with virtual relationships.
“Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world,” he said.
The pope made his comments in his message for the 2011 celebration of World Communications Day on June 5.
“In the search for sharing, for ‘friends,’ there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself,” he said.
The pope acknowledged the Internet has fundamentally changed the way people communicate today.
“This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship,” he said.
In the digital world, he said, information is increasingly transmitted through social networks as a form of sharing between persons.
This dynamic has favoured dialogue, exchange, a sense of solidarity and the creation of positive relations.
The pope added that digital communication has built-in limits, including the one-sidedness of the interaction and “the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world.”
The great potential of social networks for building relationships makes it a natural place for the Church to be present, he said.
But there is a “Christian way” of being online — through communication that is “honest and open, responsible and respectful of others,” he said.
Pope Benedict’s message, while underlining the risks of the Internet, was generally positive about online opportunities, saying they had opened new “spiritual horizons.”
The pope said the Gospel should be presented online not as a consumer item, but as daily nourishment.
That requires communication that is “respectful and sensitive, which stimulates the heart and moves the conscience.”
In their online activities, he added, Christians also need to remember that direct human relations remain fundamental for transmission of the faith.
“Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the Web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters,” he said.
The pope said believers can help prevent the Web from becoming an instrument that “depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others.”