By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The often superficial high-speed world of digital social media needs an injection of calm, reflection and tenderness if it is to be "a network not of wires but of people", Pope Francis said on Thursday.
Francis, in his message for the Roman Catholic Church's World Communications Day, also said that while Catholics should cherish and defend their ideas and traditions, they should never be so smug as to claim that "they alone are valid or absolute".
He again denounced the "scandalous gap" between the rich and poor, saying it was not uncommon to see the homeless sleeping on a street in the glow of opulent store window lights.
Francis said the media and the internet, which he called "something truly good, a gift from God," could help bring people together, but that digital communications often impeded them from truly getting to know each other.
"The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression," he said in the 1,200-word message. Modern media can help "either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings".
"The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests," he said.
He challenged people to be more "neighborly" in the digital environment by not just tolerating others but also listening and trying to understand their points of view.
"We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen," he said.
MEDIA'S "VIOLENT AGGRESSION"
The Argentine-born pontiff, 77, denounced the sometimes "violent aggression" of media and communications that was primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others.
"We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness," he said.
"The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people," he added.
Catholics should dialogue with other believers and non-believers but not in a condescending way.
"To dialogue means to believe that the 'other' has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective," Francis said.
"Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute," he said.
Asked about that section of the message, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican's Council for Social Communications, said it was "not a dogmatic text but something intended to make us reflect".
When he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, former Pope Benedict, expressed concern that some involved in inter-religious dialogue were papering over differences with other religions and watering down doctrine for the sake of good relations.
"Pope Francis, on the other hand, believes that, for most people, the Gospel enters first through the heart not the head. He therefore stresses Christian witness, compassion and love," said Father Tom Reese, who has written several books on the Vatican and the Church.
Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter in the United States, said Francis wanted to stress that true dialogue presupposes "not just respect but also admitting that Catholics can actually learn something from others during dialogue".
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)