ROME, Jan. 23, 2009 -- The Vatican reached out to the digital generation today with the launch of a dedicated YouTube channel. The site will post video clips of Pope Benedict XVI's daily activities on the Web site in an effort to lure a younger audience.
The videos will include clips of papal audiences, the pope's meeting with important world leaders and ceremonies in the Vatican that television crews normally cover daily. All the clips will be available with audio and text in four languages -- English, Italian, German and Spanish. Today's debut selection is made of 12 clips from the pope's activities in the past few weeks.
The site will also provide links to the various Vatican media services that offer additional official information.
The Vatican launched the site during a crowded news conference called to present the pope's message for the church's annual World Day of Communications later this year.
Vatican communication officials noted that the message was directed primarily to the generation that has grown up in the digital age and to those who have so successfully integrated the new technologies into their daily lifestyles.
In the message, the pope embraced the digital world and the "extraordinary potential of the new technologies, if they are used to promote human understanding and solidarity," referring to it as "truly a gift for humanity."
In stressing the importance of friendship and communication, the pope emphasized that it is also important to focus on "the quality of the content that is put into circulation using these means" and called on all people to "respect the dignity and worth of the human person."
He reminded users to avoid "the sharing of words and images that are degrading of human beings, that promote hatred and intolerance, that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or that exploit the weak and vulnerable."
While extolling the virtues of the new technologies, the Pope warned of the risks that this "connectedness" can lead to and warned against the trivialization of "the concept or the experience of friendship."
Use Web to Evangelize
"It would be sad," he wrote, "if our desire to sustain and develop online friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbors and those we meet ..."
He warned against substituting real life for a virtual. "If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive," he said, "it may, in fact, function to isolate individuals from real social interaction."
The pope also stressed the need for new technologies to be made accessible to "those who are already economically and socially marginalized" so that they do not become even more isolated. In ending his message, he encouraged Catholic youth to evangelize and spread the word about their faith via the Internet.
At the launch of the new YouTube channel, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican news office, said, "We are convinced that there are people interested in the pope's message and that they, in their search for the meaning of life, are among the many who surf the Web."
But the official Vatican channel might also be a way for the church to counter the myriad posts attacking the church and the pope.
As head of the Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television center, Lombardi said he will have the final say on what content is posted and all the material will be copyrighted by the Holy See.
"This is just a first step into social networking, we still have a lot to learn about how it works," he said, explaining that not all the interactive options on the channel will be available right away.
Initially, surfers will be able to send and share a video message as well as place it in the iGoogle file. But it will not be possible to download clips or post comments on the site, although comments can be sent.
The comments will be read by Lombardi and his assistants. "I must be honest. We just do not have the work force to reply to the messages for now but we are happy to receive them and will learn how to respond to them in the future."
Nearly 200,000 youths in the United States have already received the pope's message via Facebook and other social networking sites on the Internet, said Msg. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican communications office. "The U.S. Bishop's conference is present on Facebook," he explained, "and thousands of young Catholics also communicate together via the social network called XT3.com."
When asked if the church was in favor of the Facebook social network , Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who heads the Vatican's communication office said, "I am still studying the matter. We have opened a debate on the subject but we have not decided on it yet."
But a number of cardinals have posted their profiles on Facebook.
As with other institutions with channels on the YouTube site, the Vatican will not pay for the service. Henrique de Castro, a spokesman for Google, which owns YouTube, told journalists that the Vatican's debut is not a financial exchange but "a move to bring relevance to users."
The Queen of England made her debut on YouTube with her Christmas Day message in 2007 on the RoyalChannel page. U.S. President Obama started weekly YouTube addresses last November.
The pope is happy about the new channel, Lombardi said.
But on whether the pope actually uses the Internet, Celli said, "I do not have direct proof but I believe he does. Being a curious and attentive man of research, I would think so."