A Catholic author and blogger says Pope Benedict's use of social networking has given the Church an example of how to better evangelize through the media.
“I’d say the most recent efforts are several steps in the right direction,” Brandon Vogt told CNA Jan. 29 – something he and other “tech-savvy Catholics” have been supportive of for some time.
Although Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor Pope John Paul II often stressed the importance of using new forms of media to evangelize, especially on the Internet, little action was taken to put such tools to use on the Vatican’s part.
However, events such as the creation of Pope Benedict’s Twitter account and the launch of a new iPhone application show a pointed effort on the Vatican’s part to expand its social media outreach.
Just within the last year, Vogt said, the Pope’s “flurry of digital activity has been very surprising and encouraging.”
One day before Pope Benedict announced his World Communications Day message, the Vatican launched “The Pope App,” a tool for the iPhone and iPad that will give users the ability to stream papal events, view several live papal webcams, read news concerning the Pope’s happenings at the Vatican.
This development, as well as the Pope’s theme of “Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization” for the upcoming World Communications Day in May, show the Vatican is “walking the walk” Vogt said.
He explained that the significance of Pope’s newest social media endeavors is not “what those apps in themselves will accomplish” – which is sure to be “efficacious” – but rather, “that all of his work inspires other Catholics to take up the social media mantle and use these tools themselves.”
He added that witnessing “an 86 year-old pontiff using an iPad” does not leave “much of an excuse” to younger Catholics who have yet to utilize these tools in a similar way.
In his World Communications Day message, the Pope noted that rather than being a “parallel or purely virtual world,” the “digital environment” is “a part of the daily environment of many people, especially the young.”
Vogt said this message reflects a recognition of social media as a way to reach out like never before to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“I think the Pope is recognizing that and he’s helping the Church to slowly grasp that we now have the means – the most powerful means that we’ve ever had – to reach those groups we’re most desperately trying to reach.”
In their online interactions, the Pope encouraged the faithful to “show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy,” which the Pope said is, “faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus.”
Christians can show this through patient and respectful dialogue with other online users, as well as “in the explicit expression of their faith,” the Pope noted.
“Social networks, as well as being a means of evangelization, can also be a factor in human development,” Pope Benedict said.
Vogt said he sees Pope’s Benedict’s message for World Communications Day as “the climax” of “not just of this whole social media crescendo” but also of the Year of Faith and “the burgeoning new evangelization movement that surrounds us.”