Pope Francis calls Internet “a gift from God,” a network “not of wires, but people”

Details from the AP

The Internet is a “gift from God” that facilitates communication, Pope Francis said in a statement released Thursday, but he warns that the obsessive desire to stay connected can actually isolate people from their friends and family.

Francis made the observations in a message about Catholic Church communications, meditating on the marvels and perils of the digital era and what that means for the faithful going out into the world and interacting with people of different faiths and backgrounds.

In comments that will likely rile the more conservative wing of the church, Francis suggested that in engaging in that dialogue, Catholics shouldn’t be arrogant in insisting that they alone possess the truth.

“To (have a) dialogue means to believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective,” Francis wrote. “Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the pretense that they alone are valid and absolute.”

According to church teaching distilled by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Catholic Church holds the “fullness of the means of salvation” — a message that has long been taken to mean that only Catholics can find salvation. Church teaching also holds that those who don’t know about Jesus but seek God can also attain eternal salvation.

Pope Benedict XVI was a strong proponent of engaging in interreligious dialogue, but Francis has offered a softer approach in his sermons and gestures. In one famous off-the-cuff homily, he suggested that even atheists can find salvation. He also riled some conservatives when he washed the feet of two Muslims during the Holy Thursday re-enactment of Christ washing the feet of his apostles.

Archbishop Claudio Mario Celli, the head of the Vatican’s social communications office, said he didn’t think Francis was making an official policy statement on interreligious dialogue, noting that the message was merely a reflection, “not a conciliar or dogmatic text.”

But he acknowledged that Francis is shaking things up in much the same “providential” way Pope John XXIII shook up the church in launching the Second Vatican Council.

Read the rest.

And the full statement on social communications is here.  Snip:

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? In spite of our own limitations and sinfulness, how do we draw truly close to one another? These questions are summed up in what a scribe – a communicator – once asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10:29). This question can help us to see communication in terms of “neighbourliness”. We might paraphrase the question in this way: How can we be “neighbourly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication. Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.

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.

It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. 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. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.

As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those “streets” are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.


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