Francis joins Facebook

From Vatican Insider:

Francis joins Facebook

The Vatican is sorting out all the final technical details before the Pope’s Facebook page goes public
vatican city

Francis will soon have his very own profile on the world’s favourite social network. The Vatican is just working on some final technical aspects before the Pope’s Facebook page is made visible to the public. The Curia has told Vatican Insider that the process is in the final stages and the Vatican’s tech experts are working on the page. IT technicians are currently looking into ways to prevent offensive or inappropriate messages and other  material from being posted on the Pope’s page.

Figures show that new technologies open up a sea of opportunities for this incredibly popular Pope who is adored by young people across the world, to spread his teachings. The Pope currently has 12 million followers on Twitter and his tweets are retweeted more frequently that even President Obama’s posts are. Francis’ tweets reach as many as sixty million users.

The papal Twitter account @Pontifex was launched at Joseph Ratzinger’s request on 12 December 2012, in eight different language versions. Latin was later added, on 17 January 2014, sparking great interest and clocking up a surprising number of followers. By the time Benedict XVI left the pontificate on 28 February, he had about 3 million followers on Twitter. The account went into “hibernation” temporarily during the sede vacante period and was then re-activated on 17 March, five days after Francis’ election. Since then, its popularity has soared. The Spanish account currently has the most followers, followed by English and Italian. But the Pope’s message are not just read by direct followers, five times more Twitter users receive them thanks to the retweeting option. The President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Mgr. Claudio Maria Celli, said over 60 million people receive the Pope’s tweets, which the archbishop calls a “spiritual pill” or “shower” that brings hope.

“The Pope wants to speak with today's men and women with a language that is understandable and commonly used,” Celli added. “He has to fits his thoughts into 140 characters and we can get those tweets on our phones, which helps us feel closeness, that we are not alone.” The Pope is also reaching more and more people through the website. “It is through silence that one is able to transmit concepts and values that are fundamental to the life of people today.” And this can be done simply and quickly, in just 140 characters.

Vatican culture minister, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, explained the theological context of the effects of technological innovation on the individual and society.  “The Italian language has 150 thousand words and young people only use between 800 and 1000 of these,” the cardinal said. “The anthropological model of “digital natives” has changed so a bishop who doesn’t know how to navigate around this new environment falls outside of his mission.” Nothing new under the sun. “Jesus introduced the concept of brevity before tweets did:  “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near”; “Love your neighbour as yourself”, Ravasi said, mentioning some examples.

In his message for World Communications Day 2011, Benedict XVI underlined that Facebook and online chats should not be scorned because “they allow people to come together beyond the confines of space and culture, opening up a whole new world of potential friendships.” So “social networks are good but don’t go creating fake profiles on the web.” Joseph Ratzinger praised the social revolution sparked by the by the internet but advised children not to live purely virtual lives in a “parallel world”.

It was Benedict XVI who laid down the guidelines for an ethical use of the web.  It is good to communicate via social networks in search of an ever greater number of “friends” but we must stay “faithful to ourselves” and never to give into tricks or “illusions”, for example by creating false identities through our personal profiles. Social networks are drawing more and more people in, especially young people. They offer “new opportunities for sharing, dialogue, exchanges, solidarity and the creation of positive relationships.” But one has to be careful to “avoid the dangers” they present, that is, “seeking refuge in a sort of parallel world or excessive exposure to the virtual world.” “Like all fruits of human genius, new communication technologies must be used to benefit the person as a whole and humanity as a whole.” If used wisely, “they can help fulfil a person’s desire for truth and unity, which constitute mankind’s deepest aspirations.” But there are some limits to digital communication: the partiality of interaction, the tendency to only communicate some parts of one’s inner world, the risk of building a certain image of oneself which can lead us to indulge in some form of narcissism. Getting involved in the digital arena of social networks “leads us to develop new ways of relating to others and influences the perception of oneself.” This calls into question not only the correct ways of behaving but also the authenticity of who we portray ourselves to be. On the web, it is good to ask ourselves who our neighbours are so as not to run the risk of being less present in the lives of those we meet on a daily basis.

Benedict XVI taught that digital communication tools should be Christianised without “watering down the Gospel in order to make it more popular.” Joseph Ratzinger also pointed out the grave risk of new technologies not being accessible to the marginalised, creating a potential split between the “digital” West and the Third World which could end up being cut out. Since the start of his pontificate, Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for the speed and efficiency of new media and above all for their ability to respond to “people’s fundamental desire to communicate with one another.” This innate desire can be fulfilled even further thanks to a new instrument that makes it easier to contact others, form friendships and provide moral and material enrichment. This is why Benedict XVI introduced a set of guidelines: respect, dialogue and true friendship. It is important, therefore, not to allow our desire for “virtual communication” to take over and become an “obsession”. It is important we don’t sacrifice the relationship we have with our families, neighbours, work colleagues and “real” friends, otherwise a person becomes isolated and stops social interaction.”

This has provoked the concerns of the Vatican dicastery for the family which has spoken out against a “virtual reality” and the Italian Episcopal Conference which has spoken of a “telematic schism” of faithful who are “alienated” from the Church on the web. An appeal to “those working in the production and in the social media sector” to assume responsibility and “work to ensure that the dignity and value of the human person are respected.” So no porn, violence, intolerance and anything that “debases the beauty and intimacy of human sexuality and exploits the weak and the defenceless.” The web could thus open up its immense potential “for life and the good of creation” becoming an instrument of evangelisation, entrusted by Benedict XVI to young Catholics. The first to point to the importance of social networks was Cardinal Ennio Antonelli - formerly the Vatican’s family minister - back in 2009. He referred particularly  to online chats and role-playing games which involve the user “adopting a fictitious identity and going to work, going shopping, building a house, setting up companies, spending leisure time in a fun way, experiencing interesting encounters, sentimental and sexual relations and even marriage.” An “alienation from reality” which “prescribes models that have nothing to do with the values taught by the Gospel.”


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