.- Pope Benedict XVI has asked people to use social networking sites "responsibly" and "with respect," given the growing number of people who are becoming internet dependent.
"These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity," the Pope said in his World Communications Day, released Jan. 24 at a Vatican press conference.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said that his office will hold a scientific meeting of psychologists, neurologists and educators because of serious concerns that have arisen about the negative effects that internet dependency has in the normal development of a child's brain.
The archbishop explained that new technology can be dangerous if it's used for reasons other than to improve human relations or to obtain knowledge.
He pointed to a danger of dependency and recalled that in Europe 73 percent of children use the internet without their parents' presence.
"You can't reduce yourself to just internet contacts," Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli told CNA after the media event.
"There are boys who just play with PlayStation and aren't capable of kicking a ball. And finding a balance is the responsibility of parents," he said.
The Pope's message for World Communications Day was released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists and writers.
During the press presentation, Archbishop Celli also underscored that "the Pope wants to make clear that social networking isn't a fad, but a reality which is here to stay."
"He is also trying to make Christians realize that we're called to proclaim God's word because humans are losing certain values," he said.
"He's inviting all people to work together to ensure social networks don't fall into the hands of those most vicious in their way of expressing themselves," explained Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The message was published nearly four months earlier than the actual World Communications Day, which is celebrated on May 12.
"The main point of the Pope's message is to make people aware of the importance of social networking," Msgr. Tighe stated.
"The Pope is saying that we have to work to ensure it's a positive culture, because that depends on what we do when we're present, and this can only be done by using it responsibly and with respect."
The communications council secretary noted that the Pope also has a particular message for Catholics not to close themselves off from those they don't agree with.
Msgr. Tighe warned of the danger of polarization that can result from people creating their own "I-news" and only visit websites they like.
"If the Church is to be inclusive, we have to be willing to engage with the ideas and opinions of other people, even of those who are against us," he said.
Msgr. Tighe explained that his office "wants to identify the best practices that enable Christians to be present in effective ways finding a language that will touch the minds and hearts of others," he said.
"Our presence will prosper if we can be seen as a benign influence where people can feel they can go to and be listened to," he added.