The arrival of the Pope on Twitter has generated all types of reactions. The fact that the Pope has become a user of the second largest social network on the Internet has become the subject of much discussion. Everyone has an opinion about what this development means. Some interpret it as a desire to become more “modern,” to bring the Vatican “up to date,” and in doing so, improve the Pope’s image and, by extension, that of the Church. This is an easy interpretation, albeit rather superficial, and one that is quite far from grasping the depth and scope of this initiative.
Several of the messages that the Holy Father has delivered for the most recent World Communications Days have provided the keys for more substantial interpretation. In these one can see how the Church has admirably understood that fact that the Internet is not only an instrument for communication, but rather, it is above all an area, a place where people meet and develop relationships.
The Net is an inhabited world; hence the name Digital Continent, as the Pope often refers to it. Benedict XVI has made this clear from the beginning: “that’s where the people are, so that’s where the Pope should also be,” whether that means News.va, the Vatican’s YouTube Channel or Twitter account. Yet, there still exists a strong prejudice against social networks, which would have one believe that the relationships carried on among them are not real, healthy or authentic. The matter has to do with comparing friendship through a social network with friendship deriving from the physical world. When compared, we certainly find that with physical proximity there is a richer friendship for which the digital alternative is no substitute. Rather, the two modes are best integrated one with the other. The challenge, therefore, is not to set both options against one another, but instead, establish full communion between the two. The task of the Church is not so much to see to the good use of the Internet, as it is to teach men and women how to live well in the Internet Age.
As Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro often repeats: information is not only transmitted, but above all, it is shared. This form of communication requires a much greater commitment of the person in the act of communication. We could say that it better expresses the way in which God reveals himself: God communicates himself.
Revelation is not so much a transmission of content from God, but is, as is stated in Dei Verbum, “God communicating himself.” This is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The incarnation presupposes the total exposure of God, and it is this shared, committed and dedicated life in Christ which has saved us. In my opinion, it is this revealed life, which is shared and surrendered, that the Pope wishes to express across Twitter.
Something that may shock many is to discover that a simple search for “@Pontifex” on Twitter (the Pope’s account) yields hundreds of results, replete with insults, blasphemies and ridicule. It was the same thing that Our Lord Jesus Christ endured, but this time it is in real time and perpetrated by men and women of today. Is this a side effect that must be endured as a “lesser evil?”
Or, perhaps it could be part of the inevitable path of persecution that the Church has had to travel various times so as to be a means toward salvation?
Will the scandal that produces all this hate be so strong as to compel the Pope to abandon his presence on social networks and close his Twitter account?
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Daniel Pajuelo Vázquez is a Marianist religious. He is the founder of imision.org.