Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook received a boost Monday from an unlikely quarter–Pope Benedict XVI. In a message issued in celebration of the 45th World Day of Social Communications, the Pope invited Christians “to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible.”
“[T]his network is an integral part of human life,” he said in a message titled “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” “The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness.”
“In the final analysis, the truth of Christ 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,” he continued.
While encouraging his flock to engage in online social networking, the Pontiff cautioned against cyber excesses. “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.
Although it’s common practice among many websters to interact with the Internet through a virtual persona or avatar, the Holy Father frowned on the practice. “In the search for sharing, for ‘friends,’ there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give into the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself,” he warned.
“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,” he added.
Benedict XVI also called on the faithful to conduct themselves in the digital world as Christians. “[T]his takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others,” he observed.
The Pope isn’t above social networking himself. He has his own YouTube Channel and Facebook page, and the Vatican has even issued an iPhone app.