Pope Benedict XVI has told Catholic Church leaders they must engage with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter if they want to spread the faith to the next generation.
The 85-year-old Benedict, who tweets in nine languages, used his annual message on social communications to stress the potential of social media for the Church as it struggles to keep followers and attract new ones amid religious apathy, competition from other churches and scandals that have driven the faithful away.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican’s communications office, cited a 2012 study commissioned by US bishops that found that 53% of Americans were unaware of any significant presence of the Catholic Church online.
Other studies, the archbishop said, made clear that the “millennial generation” of people born after 1982 use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube far more than their parents as primary sources of information, entertainment and sharing political views and community issues.
“The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young,” the Pope said in his message.
Benedict still writes longhand but he is a superstar online, with 2.5m Twitter followers, nearly 11,000 following his Latin tweets.
Meanwhile, he complained that popular social media users and smooth talkers are creating a din and stealing attention from those trying to address key social and faith issues.
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