Pope calls for Christian presence on social networking sites

Facebook, MySpace and Twitter should be used by Christians looking to bring "truth, proclamation and authenticity of life" to the web today, the Pope said in his message for the 45th World Day of Social Communications.

In his message released on Jan. 24, the Pope called for a greater Christian presence online in the midst of the "vast cultural transformation" caused by the digital age. New technologies, he said, are "giving birth to a new way learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship."

If technologies are used with wisdom, he explained, "they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being."

Pope Benedict also warned about the dangers of falsifying one's online profile and creating a "parallel existence."

He instead urged people to be authentic and faithful when they share information or make "friends" online.

The "Christian way" of being present in the digital world means being "honest and open, responsible and respectful of others," he explained. It is a way of communicating that is consistent with the Gospel, supported by actions worthy of the same witness in one's daily life.

"New and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons (and) new forms of shared awareness" are opened up by new technologies and Christians are also called to proclaim their faith in God in these spaces, the Pope said.

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

Christ's truth is not a question of online popularity, the Pope added, rather, it is "the full and authentic response to that human desire for relationship, communion and meaning which is reflected in the immense popularity of social networks."

While noting that "direct human relations" are always essential to sharing the faith, he invited Christians to"confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible."

Having a Christian presence online is based not only on a desire to be there, but "because this network is an integral part of human life," he said.

The Pope's message was presented during a press conference at the Holy See's Press Office on Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of communications workers.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, led the presentation. He announced that the Vatican hopes to have a new communications portal online by Easter.

It will provide a single multimedia site for easy access to the major media communications agencies of the Holy See, such as the press office, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Center, L'Osservatore Romano and Fides news.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, who was also among those present for the presentation, also announced that during a Feb. 10 celebration for the 80-year anniversary of the radio station, he will launch a feature called "VaticanTic" on the station's website. The tool will allow users to view the Pope's schedule.

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