On Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to use social networks like Twitter and Facebook in the 2013 World Communications Day Message. The Pope says that social networking sites are not a virtual world that Catholics should ignore, but instead a real world they should engage in if they want to spread their faith to the next generation.
In the Pope’s message, he focused on social communications stressing the potential of social media for the Catholic Church as it struggles to keep followers and attract new ones amid competition from other churches and scandals that have driven followers away.
In fact, the Holy See has become an avid user of social media since it launched its new evangelization of the developed world, where congregations have fallen in the wake of growing secularization and damage to the Church's reputation from sex abuse scandals.
Currently, the Pope, who still writes longhand, reaches around 2.5 million followers through eight Twitter accounts in nine different languages, with nearly 11,000 of them following his Latin tweets alone.
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"Unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people. 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,” he said in a letter on the Vatican's website.
According to Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican's communications office, there is a 2012 study commissioned by U.S. bishops that found that 53 percent of Americans were unaware of any significant online presence of the Church.
In addition, to benefits related to faith, the Pope praised connections made online which he said could blossom into true friendships. “Online life was not a purely virtual world, but increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society," he said. “Social networks were also a practical tool that Catholics could use to organize prayer events.”
The Pope’s speech coincided with the launch of “The Pope App”, a downloadable program that streams live footage of the pontiff's speaking events and Vatican news onto smartphones. The new app will allow people to follow live broadcasts of events like the Sunday Angelus, Wednesday general audience and others, as well as access images and media from any mobile device.
Additionally, this new app will alert users when an event is about to begin and the mobile device will receive the live feed from the Vatican Television Center with views from the Vatican’s webcams.
Edited by Brooke Neuman