Pope Francis has called on clergy around to the world to “boldly become citizens of the digital world” in his World Communications Day 2014 message.
The head of the Catholic Church urged people to use the “digital highway” as a method of carrying out the duties of a Good Smaraitan and said effective Christian witness was not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about “our willingness to be available to others”.
The Pope said in his message, published in advance of World Communications Day 2014: “Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness.
“The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.”
However, Pope Francis also warned followers of the dangers of online communications.
“The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings.
“The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.
“Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road. The Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbour, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance.
“In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response. Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbour."
He added: “While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.”
The Pope – Benedict XVI at the time – embraced Twitter at the end of 2012 when the @pontifex account was launched. The English version of the account now has more than 3.5 million followers.
Earlier this week, the Church of England launched nine new commandments for the social media age.