Pope Francis warned on Monday that the internet can prevent young people and other Christians achieving holiness by ensnaring them in a “virtual reality” that fosters indifference to the suffering of others.
"All of us, especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zapping,” the Pope wrote in an ‘apostolic exhortation,’ entitled Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), a major document containing the pontiff’s reflections on the call to holiness in the contemporary world issued by the Vatican.
“We can navigate simultaneously on two or more screens and interact at the same time with two or three virtual scenarios," Pope Francis wrote. "Hedonism and consumerism can prove our downfall. Similarly when we allow ourselves to be caught up in superficial information, instant communication and virtual reality, we can waste precious time and become indifferent to the suffering flesh of our brothers and sisters."
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He added that using social media to attack people anonymously also leads people away from the path to holiness.
“Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.
"It is striking at times," he wrote, that "in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying."
All of us, especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zappingPope Francis
The Argentinian pope, 81, rejected criticism from conservative prelates that he has given social problems, such as migration, priority to the detriment of traditional Catholic doctrine.
“We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue,” the Pope wrote. “Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.
"That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” he continued. "Welcoming the stranger at the door is fundamental."
Pope Francis urged people to eschew elaborate demonstrations of faith and be content with bringing up children, working hard to support families and representing what he called "a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, the middle class of holiness."
He wrote there is no doubt that the devil is real, following a Vatican rebuke last month of a journalist who quoted him as saying hell does not exist.
"We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea," he wrote. "This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable to the devil’s temptations.”
The title of the apostolic exhortation is the phrase used in Matthew 5:12, the end of the Beatitudes, which reads: "Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven."