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Monday, 24 January 2011

Pope Benedict: authenticity and faithfulness in social networking

"Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age" is the title of the Holy Father's message for World Communications Day which will be celebrated on 5 June. It was issued today on the feast of St Francis de Sales.

Once again, the Holy Father has underlined the importance of a proper use of the internet. This year, he paid particular attention to social networking. Although he did not use the word "Facebook", there is a clear enough reference:
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. 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.
There can be good reasons for using a nickname on the internet and for not giving away too much personal information. The Holy Father's advice is important in this context: it is easy enough to invent an online "persona" and we need, as Christians to avoid the temptation of giving ourselves a different online personality from the one that we have in our face-to-face encounters with others.

Later, Pope Benedict speaks of a particularly Christian way of being present on the internet:
When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically.
This can be difficult when we are faced with a troll who launches in with spiteful comments. It is a good thing to ask what the gospel teaches us about how to respond to such an attack.

As ever, the Holy Father remains fundamentally positive about the Christian use of the internet:
I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life.
Do read the whole message; Pope Benedict has now offered several reflections for us on the use of the internet which apply Catholic teaching to this medium. Catholics who use it should listen respectfully to his fatherly counsel.
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