Don't replace real friends with virtual ones, Pope tells youngsters

London, Jan 25 (ANI): In a message released on Monday ahead of the Vatican's 45th World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval to social networking but urged youngsters not to replace real friends with virtual contacts.

The 83-year-old pontiff, who does not have his own Facebook account, insisted that they were in danger of alienation and detachment from reality by excessive use of digital media, reports the Daily Mail.

Although the Pope did not name sites such as Facebook or Twitter, he alluded to 'sharing', 'friends' and 'profiles' - jargon commonly used on the social networking sites.

He claimed it was a mistake to seek more virtual friends than real ones when so many Internet users created public profiles that were either self-indulgent or plainly false.

"It is important to remember virtual contact must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives," he said.

He also urged users of social networks to avoid the danger of always being available online but being 'less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life'.

The Pope, however, said online social networks created 'a great opportunity' and encouraged the faithful to adopt a 'Christian- style presence' online and spread the Gospel.

The vast horizons of new media 'urgently demand a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age', he said.

The pontiff said social networking can help 'dialogue, exchange, solidarity and the creation of positive relations' but he also offered a list of warnings.

"Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world," he said.

"In the search for sharing, for 'friends', there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself," he added.

The Pope is known to write most of his speeches by hand while under him the Holy See has greatly increased its presence online. (ANI)

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