The Church itself is a huge social network, so it embraces the emergence of digital media that can be used to communicate God’s love.

As the Church enters the period of “New Evangelization” seeking to reintroduce Christ to an increasingly secularized world, social networks can help in mission, evangelization, and the promotion of Christian values, speakers at the first Catholic Social Media Summit in the Philippines said.

Reflecting on the theme “Ministering Grace to this Generation,” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said the Church welcomes social networking as long as it is used for a good cause and in a way that will communicate God’s love for the people.

“Like today’s world itself, the world of media [and] the Internet has been brought by Christ,” Tagle said. “Social networking is a sign, giving us hope, and opportunities for mission; a way of bringing good news to a vast people and an instrument of evangelization, yet a field that needs to be evangelized,” he said during the summit, held at the Marikina Riverbanks’ Renaissance Convention Center in Marikina last July 14 to 15.

Since the world is divided politically, economically, socially, and religiously, social media can be used to communicate and unite with other people, and know more of their lives and beliefs, he added.

“Even fish vendors can text through their cellphones. Before, only rich people have cameras but now, everyone can take photographs. Knowledge is not just a privilege of a powerful few, it is for everyone,” Tagle said.

Tagle said the word “friend,” the basis of relationships in popular social networking site Facebook, should be “taken seriously” by reaching people who need love and a sense of belonging.

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“If you’re a friend, you will not communicate things to destroy others. You will be caring rather than make their lives more miserable,” he said.

But to reach out does not necessarily mean using only media, especially the Internet. It can also be through basic human communication such as smiling and using encouraging words that can create a real and meaningful friendship, Tagle said.

Meanwhile, Fr. Stephen Cuyos, a missionary of the Communication Foundation for Asia, said in his opening remarks that the Church is the biggest social network offline and online. Jesus created friendship through social networking, connecting with His apostles who, in turn, connected with other disciples, he said in his speech titled “The Cloud Search: Truth and Authenticity in the Digital World.”

Cuyos said there are five important things to remember in using social media: pray before clicking, share photos to proclaim the Good News and inspire other people, foster meaningful friendships, post uplifting videos, and leave digital footprints consistent with the Gospel.

“Our goal is to follow Jesus. We need to be 100-percent faithful. We need to say what Christ says, do what He does, and go where Christ goes,” Cuyos said.

Cuyos added that since hundreds of billions of photos are posted in Facebook and Photobucket, preaching the Gospel may also be done by sharing images in these social media.

Dangers of social networks

Carlo Ople, senior manager of TV 5, rattled off statistics on social media use.

An estimated 41 million or 30 to 35 percent of the population have Internet access. About 28 million have accounts on Facebook, while 14 million are Twitter users. Four million have Multiply accounts.

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“What’s heart-breaking is the fact that 28 percent of high school kids have sent naked pictures of themselves through social media; 57 percent were asked to send a ‘sext’ (slang for sex on text); the word ‘sex’ was mentioned 1.2 million times on Twitter. The word ‘Jesus’ has only been mentioned a hundred thousand times,” Ople said.

Ople said people should use social media to build influence, make emotional and spiritual connections, and as a means of evangelization.

“The grace of God can be heard through our mouths, passed through our fingers that go to the keyboard, posted on the network, and shared to a large number of people,” he said.

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