Pope Francis has proclaimed the internet a “gift from God,” lauding its ability to connect disparate groups and foster communication across religious, economic, and political divides. The comments were part of his message for World Communications Day.
“A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive,” read the pontiff’s statement.
He outlined ways in which the world we are living in is “growing smaller” and edging towards the “unity of the human family.” He added that the digital world is not “a network of wires,” but rather “a network of people.”
“Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God,” he stated.
Pope Francis has bolstered his progressive, modern image since assuming his role – a photo of him posing with young fans in a “selfie” went viral last year. He has also received praise for leading a more humble lifestyle than his predecessors. However, his statements on atheism and homosexuality have roused more conservative Catholics.
He also incited controversy after calling abortion “horrific” and part of a “throwaway culture” in his State of the World address in mid-January.
Pope Francis equally noted some downsides to the information age on Thursday, despite declaring that the information age was a godsend. “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression,” he noted.
His comments seem to fall in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – later Pope Benedict CXVI – who instructed the young in 2011 that they should beware of the virtual world. He claimed that teenagers were “in danger of alienation and detachment from reality by excessive use of digital media.”
While Benedict himself has also made calls for further interreligious dialogue in the past, the issue of whether the Catholic Church alone holds the “fullness of the means of salvation” continues to hang over the Vatican.
“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 pretence that they alone are valid and absolute.”