|On November 22, 2001, Pope John Paul II made cyberhistory when he published an official document on Internet, speeding it along to the communities it was addressed to -- on the other side of the world. After signing the document “The Church in Oceania,” the Holy Father went to a computer containing the e-mail addresses of the dioceses of Oceania. At the click of a button, the document was sent to its recipients.|
The Internet is like a huge library, where everything can be found, good or bad. One must therefore surf cautiously and responsibly. Pope John Paul II and the Vatican have recently issued documents about the Internet and its good use. Here are some excerpts:
VATICAN CITY, MAY 12, 2002 (ZENIT.org).- John Paul II invited the Church to “put out to sea” in evangelizing the world with the help of Internet. As the faithful in Italy and other countries today celebrated the solemnity of the Ascension, the Pope noted that the Church was also observing World Communications Day. He invited Catholics to use the Internet for spreading the message about Christ. “The Redeemer constitutes for the faithful the anchor of salvation and comfort in the daily commitment to the service of truth and peace, of justice and freedom,” the Holy Father explained from the window of his study as he addressed pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray the midday Regina Caeli.
“In fact, we have to confront the realities of this world every day,” he said. Among these realities, he declared, the media play a key role. That is why, he said, he selected Internet as the theme for this year's Communications Day. “The most recent advancements in communications and information have put the Church in front of previously unheard-of possibilities for evangelization,” the Pope exclaimed.
“We must enter into this modern and every more replete communications network with realism and confidence,” the Holy Father said, “convinced that, if it is used with competence and conscientious responsibility, it can offer useful opportunities for spreading the Gospel message. There is no need, therefore, to worry about putting out to sea in the vast informational ocean,” he added. “One can also reach the heart of men and women of the new millennium through the Good News itself.”
The Church approaches this new medium with realism and confidence. Like other communications media, it is a means, not an end in itself. The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses. Above all, by providing information and stirring interest it makes possible an initial encounter with the Christian message, especially among the young who increasingly turn to the world of cyberspace as a window on the world.
There already exist on the Net countless sources of information, documentation and education about the Church, her history and tradition, her doctrine and her engagement in every field in all parts of the world. It is clear, then, that while the Internet can never replace that profound experience of God which only the living, liturgical and sacramental life of the Church can offer, it can certainly provide a unique supplement and support in both preparing for the encounter with Christ in community, and sustaining the new believer in the journey of faith which then begins.
Despite its enormous potential for good, some of the degrading and damaging ways in which the Internet can be used are already obvious to all, and public authorities surely have a responsibility to guarantee that this marvellous instrument serves the common good and does not become a source of harm.
The fact that through the Internet people multiply their contacts in ways hitherto unthinkable opens up wonderful possibilities for spreading the Gospel. But it is also true that electronically mediated relationships can never take the place of the direct human contact required for genuine evangelization.
Finally, in these troubled times, let me ask: how can we ensure that this wondrous instrument first conceived in the context of military operations can now serve the cause of peace? Can it favour that culture of dialogue, participation, solidarity and reconciliation without which peace cannot flourish? The Church believes it can; and to ensure that this is what will happen she is determined to enter this new forum, armed with the Gospel of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on this World Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world "the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim.
John Paul II
The Internet is relevant to many activities and programs of the Church— evangelization, including both re-evangelization and new evangelization and the traditional missionary work ad gentes, catechesis and other kinds of education, news and information, apologetics, governance and administration, and some forms of pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. Although the virtual reality of cyberspace cannot substitute for real interpersonal community, the incarnational reality of the sacraments and the liturgy, or the immediate and direct proclamation of the gospel, it can complement them, attract people to a fuller experience of the life of faith, and enrich the religious lives of users. It also provides the Church with a means for communicating with particular groups—young people and young adults, the elderly and home-bound, persons living in remote areas, the members of other religious bodies—who otherwise may be difficult to reach.
A growing number of parishes, dioceses, religious congregations, and church-related institutions, programs, and organizations of all kinds now make effective use of the Internet for these and other purposes. Creative projects under Church sponsorship exist in some places on the national and regional levels. The Holy See has been active in this area for several years and is continuing to expand and develop its Internet presence. Church-related groups that have not yet taken steps to enter cyberspace are encouraged to look into the possibility of doing so at an early date. (...) Hanging back timidly from fear of technology or for some other reason is not acceptable, in view of the very many positive possibilities of the Internet.
The Internet has a number of striking features. It is instantaneous, immediate, worldwide, decentralized, interactive, endlessly expandable in contents and outreach, flexible and adaptable to a remarkable degree. It is egalitarian, in the sense that anyone with the necessary equipment and modest technical skill can be an active presence in cyberspace, declare his or her message to the world (...) All users of the Internet are obliged to use it in an informed, disciplined way, for morally good purposes; parents should guide and supervise children's use.
John Cardinal Foley
February 22, 2002