Benedict's message called for respectful online dialogue

A young woman tweets a message.


A young woman tweets a message.

May 20, 2013

VATICAN CITY – Social media need to promote more logic, kindness and Christian witness than bluster, star-status and division, says the pope's 2013 message for World Communications Day.

The online world exposes people to a wider range of opinions and beliefs, the message said. People need to accept the existence of these other cultures, "be enriched by it" and offer others what "they possess that is good, true and beautiful."

Pope Benedict XVI issued the message Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of journalists, prior to the former pope's resignation.

World Communications Day is marked on Ascension Sunday in most dioceses.

Christians are called to bring truth and values to the whole world – online and off – remembering that it's ultimately the power of God's word that touches hearts, not sheer human effort, Pope Benedict said in his message.

Social media "need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation," he said.

Social forums need to be used wisely and well, which means fostering balanced and respectful dialogue and debate, he said, and paying special attention to "privacy, responsibility and truthfulness."

Too often, popularity – garnered either from fame or strategic powers of persuasion – determines the "significance and effectiveness" of online communication, not "intrinsic importance or value," he said.

Catholics can "show their authenticity" by sharing their hope and joy, and its source in Jesus Christ, he said. Catholics also should give witness by the way they live their lives and how their "choices, preferences and judgments" are fully consistent with the Gospel.

The former pope said, "Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own."

Social networks are an important place for people of faith to reach out 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," Pope Benedict said.

If evangelizing is to bear fruit, he said, people need to remember that "it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts."

The level of debate can be toned down and sensationalism avoided when people begin to put more trust in the power of God's work "than any confidence we place in human means," he said.