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January 24, 2014

Pope sees Internet as 'gift from God'

Mark Pope Francis down as an Internet optimist.

He declared his unambiguous support for the Web as a tool that brings humanity closer together in a papal statement Thursday.

"A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive," Francis said. "Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity.

"This is something truly good," he added. "A gift from God."

Francis certainly isn't the first pope to embrace technology. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was the first pope to use Twitter — and John Paul II lauded the Web in 2001.

But John Paul II was more plainly pragmatic in how he described the purpose of the Internet, which was not nearly as widely used in his later years as it is now. He spent his World Communications Day speech describing the Web less as a tool for unity and more as an instrument for spreading Christianity. "The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses," he said.

Francis undoubtedly has the same goal in mind, but he lives in an era when the Web and social technology is a given. This is a man who has shown he will speak to anyone, at any time, in any language.

"The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us," the papal statement said. "We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind. While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement."

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