By Alexandra Burlacu email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Jan 28, 2013 10:34 AM EST
Pope Benedict has launched his own smartphone app streaming live footage of his speeches, and encouraged Catholics to use social networks to spread the good word.
According to the Pope, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are a good way to win converts, and Catholics should make use of the networks' popularity.
While the social Web sites are often associated with gossip, over sharing, and countless baby photos or images of one's lunch, they could also serve as "portals of truth and faith."
"Unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world, it may be absent in the experience of many people," said the 85-year-old Pope in a letter published on Vatican's Web site.
Since the launch of its "new evangelization" of the digital, developed world, the Pope has become an increasingly dedicated user of social media. The Pope himself has roughly 2.5 million followers on Twitter through eight accounts, including one account that posts in Latin. Note, however, that not all accounts are official.
The Pope further noted how connections made online could blossom into true friendships, and online life was far more than a purely virtual world.
"[Online life is] increasingly becoming part of the very fabric of society," said the Pope.
Moreover, Catholics could also use social networks as practical tools to organize prayer events, suggested the pontiff. The Pope did, however, said that debate should imbibe reason and dialogue should be respectful among those with different beliefs, cautioning against the tendency towards "heated and divisive voices" and "sensationalism."
While "agoras" were the centers of public life in ancient Greek cities, today's agora can be found online, on such social networking Web sites. The speech about social networks coincided with the launch of "The Pope App," a downloadable smartphone application that streams live footage of the Pope's speeches and Vatican news.
Pope Benedict's attitude towards the new media addresses the Church's concerns that it does not have a notable presence on the Internet. Prior to the Pope's debut on Twitter, the Vatican commissioned a study of Internet use and religion and found that most of the U.S. Catholics surveyed were unaware of any significant Church presence online. The Pope signed up to Twitter in December, but Justin Bieber still has 32 million more followers.