Internet — A New Forum for Proclaiming the GospelPOPE JOHN PAUL II
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.
Brothers and Sisters:
Church in every age continues the work begun on the day of Pentecost, when the
Apostles, in the power of the Holy Spirit, went forth into the streets of Jerusalem
to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many tongues.
Through the succeeding centuries, this evangelizing mission spread to the
far corners of the earth, as Christianity took root in many places and learned
to speak the diverse languages of the world, always in obedience to Christ's command
to preach the Gospel to every nation.
the history of evangelization is not just a matter of geographic expansion, for
the Church has also had to cross many cultural thresholds, each of which called
for fresh energy and imagination in proclaiming the one Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The age of the great discoveries, the Renaissance and the invention of printing,
the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the modern world: these too were threshold
moments which demanded new forms of evangelization. Now, with the communications
and information revolution in full swing, the Church stands unmistakably at another
decisive gateway. It is fitting therefore that on this World Communications Day
2002 we should reflect on the subject: “Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming
The Internet is certainly a new “forum” understood in the
ancient Roman sense of that public space where politics and business were transacted,
where religious duties were fulfilled where much of the social life of the city
took place, and where the best and the worst of human nature was on display. It
was a crowded and bustling urban space, which both reflected the surrounding culture
and created a culture of its own. This is no less true of cyberspace, which is
as it were a new frontier opening up at the beginning of this new millennium.
Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of
danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other
great periods of change. For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons
to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message.
This challenge is at the heart of what it means at the beginning of the millennium
to follow the Lord's command to "put out into the deep”: Duc in altum!
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. It is important, therefore,
that the Christian community think of very practical ways of helping those who
first make contact through the Internet to move from the virtual world of cyberspace
to the real world of Christian community.
At a subsequent stage, the
Internet can also provide the kind of follow-up which evangelization requires.
Especially in an unsupportive culture, Christian living calls for continuing instruction
and catechesis, and this is perhaps the area in which the Internet can provide
excellent help. 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.
There are nevertheless certain necessary, even obvious,
questions which arise in using the Internet in the cause of evangelization. The
essence of the Internet in fact is that it provides an almost unending flood of
information, much of which passes in a moment. In a culture which feeds on the
ephemeral there can easily be a risk of believing that it is facts that matter,
rather than values. The Internet offers extensive knowledge, but it does not teach
values; and when values are disregarded, our very humanity is demeaned and man
easily loses sight of his transcendent dignity. 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.
Furthermore, the Internet radically redefines
a person's psychological relationship to time and space. Attention is rivetted
on what is tangible, useful, instantly available; the stimulus for deeper thought
and reflection may be lacking. Yet human beings have a vital need for time and
inner quiet to ponder and examine life and its mysteries, and to grow gradually
into a mature dominion of themselves and of the world around them. Understanding
and wisdom are the fruit of a contemplative eye upon the world, and do not come
from a mere accumulation of facts, no matter how interesting. They are the result
of an insight which penetrates the deeper meaning of things in relation to one
another and to the whole of reality. Moreover, as a forum in which practically
everything is acceptable and almost nothing is lasting, the Internet favors a
relativistic way of thinking and sometimes feeds the flight from personal responsibility
In such a context, how are we to cultivate that wisdom
which comes not just from information but from insight, the wisdom which understands
the difference between right and wrong, and sustains the scale of values which
flows from that difference?
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. For evangelization always depends
upon the personal witness of the one sent to evangelize (cf. Rom 10:14-15). How
does the Church lead from the kind of contact made possible by the Internet to
the deeper communication demanded by Christian proclamation? How do we build upon
the first contact and exchange of information which the Internet makes possible?
There is no doubt that the electronic revolution holds out the promise
of great positive breakthroughs for the developing world; but there is also the
possibility that it will in fact aggravate existing inequalities as the information
and communications gap widens. How can we ensure that the information and communications
revolution which has the Internet as its prime engine will work in favor of the
globalization of human development and solidarity, objectives closely linked to
the Church's evangelizing mission?
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 favor
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.
(From the Vatican,
24 January 2002, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales)