Facebook shouldn`t replace direct human contact: Pope

The pope also warned of the dangers of spurning reality for a parallel life.

London: Warning about the dangers of popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, Pope
Benedict XVI has said that online communication between people
must not stop face-to-face conversations.

"It is important to always remember that virtual contact cannot and should not be a substitute for direct human contact with people at all levels of our society," the pope said in a message to mark the Catholic Church`s 45th World Communications Day.

The pope asked the younger generations to "make good use of their presence on the net" and stressed the importance of communicating in ways that are "honest, open, responsible and respectful of others”.

In what appeared to be a reproof of users of social networks who create fake profiles or lie about themselves online, he said "in the search for sharing, for `friends`, the challenge is to be authentic... without giving in to illusions by building an artificial public `profile`."

The pope also warned against the addictive nature of the Internet and the dangers of spurning reality for a parallel life.

"Being online can be a sign of an authentic search to meet up with others," he said, as long as users are "careful to avoid the dangers of taking refuge in a parallel world or becoming addicted to the virtual world," he said.

It is not the first time the pope has warned of the dangers of the Internet, which he has previously said risks creating a sense of solitude and disorientation among young people.

But Benedict has also plugged Cyberspace as a good forum for spreading Christian teachings and last May began experimenting with the idea of prayer podcasts that can be downloaded online.

In 2009, the Holy See set up a Vatican website, www.pope2you.net, which is linked to Facebook so that young people can send the pope`s message to their friends.

The pope called on Christians to "unite with confidence and with a responsible creativity" on social networks, which he described as "an integral part of human life”.

"The truth we are seeking to share does not draw merit based on popularity or the amount of attention it receives. We have to let it be known in its integrity rather than watering it down to try and make it acceptable," he said.

Benedict`s message "is rich and positive because in today`s society we run the risk of trivialising communication," Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said in a statement on Monday.

The day will be celebrated on June 05, under the Vatican theme "Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age”, but the pope`s speech was made public on Monday, feast day of St Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalism.

The Church established World Communications Day in 1963 to draw attention to problems of social communication and extend a hand to the media.

Bureau Report