The Pope Turns to the Internet

Step by step, the Vatican brings the gospel to a new dimension

It does not always happen that you receive an e-mail from the pope. This is what happened last Monday for several hundreds of people signed up to, a website dubbed the “Catholic Facebook.” Step by step, the Vatican brings the gospel to a new dimension.

That Pope Benedict XVI is not as withdrawn as the media often portrays him could be seen last July by thousands of young people when they met him in Sydney during World Youth Day. Now, 50 days after this unusual gathering, the pope decided to thank young Catholics for showing up in such large numbers.

“Fifty days ago we were together for the celebration of Mass,” the pope began his 69-word long e-mail. The short message may not be a breakthrough, but for the 2000-year-old institution everything younger than St. Peter’s Basilica needs to be watched with special caution.

The Pope's twitter account.
The Pope’s twitter account.

“Empowered by the Spirit and courageous like Mary, your pilgrimage of faith fills the Church with life!” read the e-mail. “May we all be rejuvenated in hope!” concluded the pope, asking people to pray for his upcoming visit to France.

For those who believe that the Catholic Church is unable to leave the 19th century, the pope’s e-mail came as a surprise. But spreading the gospel to the Internet began at least six years ago and was initiated by Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

“In fact, we have to confront the realities of this world every day,” the Polish pope told pilgrims on May 12, 2002. Despite his advanced age, he never lost touch with the world and was quick to embrace new solutions, as long as they could win the Church new followers.

“The most recent advancements in communications and information have put the Church in front of previously unheard-of possibilities for evangelization,” continued the pope. “We must enter into this modern and every more replete communications network […] convinced that, if it used with competence and conscientious responsibility, it can offer useful opportunities for spreading the Gospel message.”

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ascended the papal throne in 2005, some feared that the Vatican would return to a more traditional policy. Dubbed the Dick Cheney of the Catholic Church, the new pope was expected to get rid of a touch of modernism introduced by his predecessor. Benedict XVI, however, has proven his critics wrong.

Even though he sticks to traditional outfits, which often cause laughter among laymen, Pope Benedict XVI continues the work began by John Paul II. He made keeping young people within the Church the priority of his pontiff and, judging from how many showed up in Sydney, he has succeeded so far. The e-mail is yet another sign that he understands the 21st century.

“It’s great that the Pope sent us a message,” Fr. John Flynn stated on Monday. Fr. Flynn was among the originators of the website and continues his mission by running an online group where he explains the Church’s position on the matters that are important for young Catholics. “I think it [the pope’s e-mail] shows he really understands how to use the Internet and what it means for young people.”

A recent poll conducted by supports Fr. Flynn’s opinion. According to the poll, 65 percent of the website’s users think the papacy of Benedict XVI is “extremely important” to them. Another 22 percent regards it as “very important,” with only four percent declaring it is not important at all.