Earlier today Pope Francis met with the participants of the 26th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, meeting under the theme “Proclaiming Christ in the digital age,” a Vatican Radio news article reports. While the pope’s comments to those gathered in Rome for this event are not likely to garner the sort of attention that his recent Apostolic Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) or his interview published in America magazine have, he has named some important features of contemporary Christian living and gestured toward a balanced engagement with technology.
This is really nothing new, at least as popes are concerned since 2005. Benedict XVI had referred to the internet and the world of technology and social media as a “digital continent” in need of “evangelization.” He saw promise in the place where women and men, especially the younger generations, gather and spend their time. This virtual place, then, is a place where the Gospel can also be lived and it can serve as a guide for right social interaction and use of technology.
Pope Francis has picked up the technology baton from his predecessor and is encouraging Christians not to shy away from technology, social media, the internet, and so on. However, adopting the Pauline exhortation about “testing” new things, Pope Francis’s encouragement comes with some caution. The Vatican Radio article reports:
“Faced with philosophies of great profundity and educational methods of great value – although steeped in pagan elements, the Fathers did not shut them out, nor on the other hand, did they compromise with ideas contrary to the Faith,” Pope Francis said. “Instead, they learned to recognize and assimilate these higher concepts and transform them in the light of God’s Word, actually implementing what Saint Paul asks: Test all things and hold fast to that which is good.”
He said this also applies to the internet.
“You must test everything, knowing that you will surely find counterfeits, illusions and dangerous traps to avoid,” Pope Francis said. “But, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will discover valuable opportunities to lead people to the luminous face of the Lord. Among the possibilities offered by digital communication, the most important is the proclamation of the Gospel.”
Drawing from the model and instructions of St. Francis of Assisi, we can interpret Pope Francis’s words as modern illustration of the Christian call to preach with our deeds as well as our words. How we use technology, digital communication, and social media; how we engage with other people; how we express our opinions and disagreements with others — all of these things should reflect an openness to the work of the Spirit and not simply a compartmentalized activity devoid of our faith and the Gospel.
Pope Francis also sees these modern communication technologies, especially the internet, as a resources for reaching out to people who are “often hurting or lost” and for offering them “real reasons for hope.”