Vatican, Jan. 23, 2009 ( - Pope Benedict XVI has wholeheartedly embraced the use of new communications technologies, with his message for the 43rd World Day of Social Communications. Although he cautions against the dangers of the internet, the Holy Father strongly encourages Christians-- and especially young people-- to use the new media fully as a means of spreading the Gospel.

The World Day of Social Communications will be observed on May 24. However, in keeping with Vatican tradition, the papal message was released on January 23: the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalism. The full text of the papal message, entitled "New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship," is available on the Vatican web site.

After tracing the development of new electronic communications media, and exploring both their dangers and their enormous potential, the Pope concludes with a passage that recognizes how young people have pioneered the use of these technologies. "It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this 'digital continent,'" the Pope writes. After conferring this apostolic mission no the rising generation, he exhorts young Christians: "Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm." As he introduced the papal message to journalists at a January 23 press conference in Rome, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, remarked that the Pope's statement marked a "real watershed" because the Pope not only emphasizes the power of digital communications but "does so by addressing the 'digital generation', thus appealing directly to the young."

Archbishop Celli observed that the internet has changed the world of communications profoundly, bringing people together in unexpected and immensely productive ways. For example he mentioned the impact of digital communications on the scientific world, noting that research "cannot but draw advantage from the continuous breaking down of barriers."

At the same time, the archbishop sounded a note of caution, pointing out that the increasing importance of the internet makes it essential to ensure access to all people. Many needy people still lack access to the modern communications media, he said, causing a "'digital divide' which cannot but be a cause for concern, precisely because the new technologies must be considered as primary resources for human development and promotion."

Pope Benedict made the same point in his message, saying that it would be a "tragedy" if the exciting potential of the internet "were not made accessible to those who are already economically and socially marginalized." The internet functions best as an open forum, he said, and therefore should be open to all. Modern electronic communications have had a sweeping impact on our lives, the Pope said, causing "fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human relationships." He extolled the "extraordinary potential of the new technologies, if they are used to promote human understanding and solidarity." The new ease of global communication, he said, is "truly a gift to humanity."

Underlining that point, the Pope said that the modern media "foster connectedness, communication and understanding between individuals and communities." The enthusiasm with which the world has responded to these new opportunities, he said, shows "the basic and enduring propensity of humans to reach beyond themselves and to seek communion with others."

The Holy Father argued that this desire for communion is a fundamental component of the human soul, and an impulse closely allied to religious faith. He wrote: "In reality, when we open ourselves to others, we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming more fully human. Loving is, in fact, what we are designed for by our Creator." Having given this unprecedented endorsement to the use of modern communications technology, the Pope proceeded to warn that these powerful resources can also be misused. All conscientious internet users should agree, he said, to "avoid the sharing of words and images that are degrading of human beings, that promote hatred and intolerance, that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or that exploit the weak and vulnerable." The Pope went on to say: "We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by those who see us merely as consumers in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth."

Morever, the Pope said, there are dangers that the use of the internet and other means of ditigal communication could warp the personalities of users, causing harm to more direct human relationships. He warned that internet users must resist any temptations to "trivialize the concept or the experience of friendship," and to become absorbed in the digital world "at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbors." Ironically, the Pope observed, the desire to be connected in cyperspace "may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction."