VATICAN CITY AND MADRID — Taking his message to the digital generation, Pope Benedict XVI has launched a Vatican channel on YouTube, church officials announced Friday.
At a crowded Vatican news conference, clergymen were joined by an executive of Google Inc., parent company of YouTube, in publicizing the posting of 12 videos of the pope's activities. The pope sees the move as a way to expand the reach of the church and exert greater control over its image, officials said.
"It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this 'digital continent,' " Benedict said in a message released by the Vatican. "Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm."
But the 81-year-old pontiff warned, as he has in the past, that technology also can prove a negative force that promotes hatred, intolerance and degradation. Contact in cyberspace should not substitute for genuine relationships, the pope said.
"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," he said.
The Vatican hopes to post as many as three new videos a day, said Father Federico Lombardi, director of the press office of the Holy See. The channel is in Italian, English, German and Spanish, and more languages might be added, he said in an interview. The Vatican already has a website, www.vatican.va, created in 1995.
"This is in particular directed towards the young, but not exclusively," Lombardi said. "We have to talk in the language of today. This is a step towards better communication. The pope encouraged us to adopt new ways of communication in order to reach out to the people who are interested in the pope's message."
Benedict's message Friday was timed to mark the Roman Catholic Church's World Communications Day today. The pontiff celebrated digital technologies as a "gift to humanity" that can spread solidarity and understanding further and faster than ever before. He urged young people to use new media to disseminate the teachings of the church wisely and respectfully.
The arrangement with Google does not involve payment, said Henrique de Castro, YouTube's managing director of European sales.
"We are honored that the Vatican has chosen to use the site to communicate with people across the world," De Castro said at the news conference. "Everybody can have access to the words of the pope on the most important issues facing the world today. . . . Not only the White House or the queen of England have a channel on YouTube, but also the Vatican can be reached by a different audience."
Many heads of state or government come from generations that recognize the power of technology, but they do not always have the time or inclination to wade into that world themselves. Asked whether the pope uses the Internet, a Vatican official answered carefully.
"I don't know," said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications. "I suppose so. Knowing him as a studious person, I presume that he does."