Many refer to President Obama as the first tech world leader, but few say anything similar about Pope Benedict XVI. Yes, the Vatican is still more conservative than the White House, but the current Pope has made the Holy See much more tech friendly. Last week he discussed technology in his annual address for the World Day of Communications, “New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship.” “The new digital technologies are, indeed, bringing about fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human relationships,” said the Pope. Benedict XVI’s speech focused on how technology fosters friendship, communication, research and collaboration. “(I)t is gratifying to note the emergence of new digital networks that seek to promote human solidarity, peace and justice, human rights and respect for human life and the good of creation.” The Pope also addressed social networks, and how they have changed the notion of friendship.

“The concept of friendship has enjoyed a renewed prominence in the vocabulary of the new digital social networks that have emerged in the last few years.”

He cautioned, though, that the focus on online friendships can cause us to pull away from other relationships. “If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.”

The Vatican has been going social for a while now. Last July, the Pope began texting followers daily messages, written in informal textspeak. Last week he also launched his own YouTube channel.

Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican’s social communications office, compared the Pope’s use of YouTube to personal pilgrimages to meet his followers.

While the Pope’s sympathies towards tech are the same as those emerging from many other leaders, both local and international, when you consider that this institution’s primary language was still Latin until the mid 1960s, its embracing of technology is more radical than most.

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By Mark Alvarez