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Facebookers Are Seeking Christ, Pope SuggestsUrges Christians to Join in Digital EraVATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The popularity of social networking Internet sites reflects the human desire for relationships and meaning, which is a desire that is fully met with the truth of Christ, says Benedict XVI. The Pope made this observation in a message released today for the 45th World Day of Social Communications, which will be observed June 5. Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of communicators. In line with his messages from the last few years, the Holy Father emphasized the development of communication as something positive, and he urged Christians "to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible." He reflected that more and more, the advent of Internet communication is compared with the Industrial Revolution, noting that "the radical changes taking place in communications are guiding significant cultural and social developments." "The new technologies are not only changing the way we communicate, but communication itself, so much so that it could be said that we are living through a period of vast cultural transformation," the Pontiff said. "This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship." He said these new horizons were recently "unimaginable." They "stir our wonder," he stated, but also, "urgently demand a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age." As with "every other fruit of human ingenuity," Benedict XVI affirmed, "the new communications technologies must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity." Blurred lines The Pope went on to reflect on the disappearing distinction between producer and consumer of information. He said this has led to a "new appreciation of communication itself," and yet the "limits typical of digital communication" are still seen: "the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence." He mentioned particular risks for youth: "Their ever greater involvement in the public digital forum, created by the so-called social networks, helps to establish new forms of interpersonal relations, influences self-awareness and therefore inevitably poses questions not only of how to act properly, but also about the authenticity of one’s own being. "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." Present, but absent Technologies open an entirely new world of potential friendships, the Holy Father acknowledged, but there are questions to be asked: "Who is my "neighbor" in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world "other" than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting?" "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," the Pontiff reminded. Being a witness Benedict XVI further noted that also in the digital age, there is a "Christian way of being present." "This," he explained, "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." In the digital world, too, the Pope said, "a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it." "In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them," he added. Spreading truth The Bishop of Rome proposed that witnessing to the Gospel means challenging the Internet status quo. "First of all," he said, "we must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its "popularity" or from the amount of attention it receives. We must make it known in its integrity, instead of seeking to make it acceptable or diluting it. It must become daily nourishment and not a fleeting attraction. The truth of the Gospel is not something to be consumed or used superficially; rather it is a gift that calls for a free response." So, the Pope said, even proclaimed on the net, "the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives. Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!" "In the final analysis," he added, "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. Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others. "On the contrary, believers encourage everyone to keep alive the eternal human questions which testify to our desire for transcendence and our longing for authentic forms of life, truly worthy of being lived."
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