SOCIAL networks can be effective means of proclaiming the Gospel, but believers must overcome the prevailing culture against truth and values through the responsible use of these digital tools.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in a message for the 47th World Communications Day last May 12, said social networks could become instruments of evangelization and “portals of truth and faith.”

“In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus,” said Pope Emeritus Benedict, who joined the micro-blogging site Twitter with the handle @Pontifex last year.

World Communications Day is celebrated on Ascension Sunday every year. The Pope’s annual message for the event is released every Jan. 24, the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists.

Allan Basas, faculty secretary of the Institute of Religion, said Twitter and Facebook users could help evangelize by quoting biblical passages and Church personalities.

“In that way, I think they are able to convey special messages that proclaim the Gospel to the members of their network. The mere activity of ‘liking’ one’s Facebook status is a good thing—it’s one way of saying that people affirm the good deeds, good words and good thoughts of others,” Basas said.

However, social networks are not the only means of evangelization as there are traditional means that remain indispensable.

“The problem is when people make social networking sites the be-all and end-all of evangelization. People have to remember that it is just one of the many means. The most important means to receive the message are still, first and foremost, the Eucharist, and second, by the way that Christians live their lives in such a way that they become good examples to people,” Basas said.

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The impersonal nature of social media allows people to degrade others through ad hominem attacks, instead of making sound arguments, Basas added.

“Reading the signs of the times, we should look at the digital world as an opportunity that can further hasten or facilitate the spreading of the Good News. We just have to know how to use it to our advantage,” said Basas, emphasizing that social media should not be seen as a threat to the Church’s mission of spreading the Good News.

The annual celebration of World Communications Day was established by Inter Mirifica, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the media of social communications.

It states: “each year in every diocese of the world, by the determination of the Bishops, there should be celebrated a day on which the faithful are instructed in their responsibilities,” so that “the varied apostolates of the Church with respect to the media of social communication may be strengthened effectively.”

Responsible use of social media

Benedict, who issued the annual message before his surprise resignation last February, recognized the vast potential of social networks in the promotion of virtues, while stressing the need to use them responsibly. Christians should also be respectful of those holding different views.

“These spaces, when engaged in a wise and balanced way, help to foster forms of dialogue and debate which, if conducted respectfully and with concern for privacy, responsibility, and truthfulness, can reinforce the bonds of unity between individuals and effectively promote the harmony of the human family,” Benedict said.

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The Pope said reasoning ability must be used in dialogues through social media. “The culture of social networks poses demanding challenges to those who want to speak about truth and values. Often, the significance and effectiveness of the various forms of expression appear to be determined more by their popularity than by their intrinsic importance and value,” he said.

Benedict called on the faithful, particularly the youth, to practice “attentive discernment” in a digital world where it is “easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail.”

Christ must always be the focus in the use of the social media, he added.

“It is natural for those who have faith to desire to share it, respectfully and tactfully, with those they meet in the digital forum. Ultimately, however, if our efforts to share the Gospel bring forth good fruit, it is always because of the power of the word of God itself to touch hearts, prior to any of our own efforts,” he said.

The quality of the communication process in the social media, and the growth of relationships that comes with it, also depends on respecting other people, particularly those with opposite views, Pope Emeritus Benedict added.

“Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own through a willingness to give oneself 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,” he said.

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