How To Be A Neighbor On The Internet

The Vatican released today its customary Message of the Pope for World Communications Day. We celebrate World Communications Day this year on Sunday, June 1, 2014. The message—which contains the pope’s annual teaching on how to inhabit the world of communications with faith—is always released on the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, January 23rd. This allows us time each year to reflect on the words of the Pope and incorporate them into our lives.

Here’s a few pointers from the message. Pope Francis, true to his “papal style,” is leading us to a spirit of neighborliness on the internet and the new environment created by digital technology, whether it’s commenting on blog posts we’re doing, posting on Facebook, tweeting, pinning on Pinterest, connecting on LinkedIn, or plain old emailing someone for business or pleasure.

First, where does the image of “neighborliness” come from? Pope Francis uses the story of the Good Samaritan. He says: “Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbors. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as ‘neighborliness.’”

Based on the World Communications Day Message, here are 3 ways of showing neighborliness in a digital environment:

  1. “Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts.” The digital world is a world of connections…wire connections certainly, but for a Christian it is a world of human connections. As Pope Francis says: We need to love. We long to be loved. We need to show “tenderness” to others even in our use of the digital media. No derogatory comments, then, on blogs or gossiping emails sent to colleagues and friends. Say “the good things men need to hear,” as St. Paul urged us.
  2. “May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful ‘neighbors’ to those wounded and left on the side of the road.” The digital highways are the streets that are “teeming with people who are hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope…. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church?” On Facebook and in email we often respond to requests for prayers and stories of illnesses and troubling situations. In each of these situations YOU and I are the Church, YOU and I are Christ reaching out to these people often in a public way. Facebook posts and pins on Pinterest are a public witness of God’s mercy reaching into the world through you. It is a mission field we can make our own.
  3. “The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ. She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way.” Pope Francis longs for a Church capable of warming hearts, of stirring people to reach out to Jesus. But, as we all know, this isn’t so easy to do in practice. When a family member leaves the Church or rejects our values, or a friend questions or attacks us for what we believe, our first reaction is to convince them they’re wrong. The message quotes a wonderful line from Pope Benedict’s Message for World Communications Day last year: “Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others ‘by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence’ (Pope Benedict, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013).” Today we are called more than ever to the delicate and “neighborly” ministry of walking with the other, even on the internet, of understanding their expectations, doubts and hopes, and bringing them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself. It demands depth, attentiveness and spiritual alertness, a respect for the worthiness of the other’s values and experiences, the courage to entertain his or her point of view and perspective without renouncing one’s own traditions and values.

Our use of digital communications is so interwoven now into our style of living and relating that it is most important that we develop a missionary heart 24/7. The world needs the advent of God’s loving mercy. “The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.”

Read the entire message here.

Sr. Kathryn James, fsp




Pope Francis School of Life, Inspiration, Pauline Digital