01/24/2013, 00.00
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Pope: Christian Mission in the age of Twitter and Facebook

In his message for the 47th World Day of Social Communications, Pope Benedict XVI expresses appreciation for the social network, "new public spaces” and urges Christians to be present on line so that "the infinite richness of the gospel" reaches "the minds and hearts of all. " The key issue is authenticity of the dialogue. Christians should accept questions and doubts about the faith with patience. Social networks are a support tool for development and for those who suffer from isolation and persecution. The importance of personal encounters, as well as those online.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Believers in Christ can not avoid being in the digital world, and especially on the "social networks" the "digital social networks" (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc.).. This is the invitation that Benedict XVI extends to all Christians in his message for the 47th World Day of Social Communications, released today by the Vatican press office, and that will be celebrated on May 12. This year's theme, "Social Networks: portals of truth and faith, new spaces for evangelisation", reveals a very positive view of tools.

The digital social networks, writes Benedict XVI, "are helping to create a new "agora", an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being. " They " help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family." For this reason, believers must accept the challenge of being present: "Unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this existential space is important".

"The digital environment - explained the pope - is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there".

Christian commitment in the digital world is required, "not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all".

The condition for social networks to really fruitful and become places of sharing is that "people must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves".

The Pope warns against the risk that these instruments, instead of helping people "who want to talk about truth and values", become subject to "popularity", "celebrity", the "sound of too much information" and calls on all for a commitment to and awareness "of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own".

Even believers must seek "authenticity" in sharing their faith in Christ, not just "not only in the explicit expression of their faith, but also in their witness, in the way in which they communicate choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically'."

"A particularly significant way of offering such witness will be through a willingness to give oneself to others by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence".

Benedict XVI is pleased to note that "social networks .... are powered by aspirations rooted in the human heart", and "the growing dialogue in social networks about faith and belief confirms the importance and relevance of religion in public debate and in the life of society".

He recalls that "social networks, as well as being a means of evangelization, can also be a factor in human development. As an example, in some geographical and cultural contexts where Christians feel isolated, social networks can reinforce their sense of real unity with the worldwide community of believers. The networks facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources, helping people to pray with a greater sense of closeness to those who share the same faith. An authentic and interactive engagement with the questions and the doubts of those who are distant from the faith should make us feel the need to nourish, by prayer and reflection, our faith in the presence of God as well as our practical charity: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1)".

A final aspect is the Pope's invitation to direct encounters between online friends: "Many people are actually discovering, precisely thanks to a contact initially made online, the importance of direct encounters, experiences of community and even pilgrimage, elements which are always important in the journey of faith. In our effort to make the Gospel present in the digital world, we can invite people to come together for prayer or liturgical celebrations in specific places such as churches and chapels. There should be no lack of coherence or unity in the expression of our faith and witness to the Gospel in whatever reality we are called to live, whether physical or digital. When we are present to others, in any way at all, we are called to make known the love of God to the furthest ends of the earth".

For the full text of the Pope's Message in English click here

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