Good news, Internet: Pope Francis got your collective love letters. And he loves you and your weird memes right back. The internet is a "gift from God," the Pope said in a statement on Thursday. Francis, who is big on the Internet, added that he's particularly encouraged by its potential for meaningful dialogue. The statement continues:
To (have a) dialogue means to believe that the 'other' has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the pretense that they alone are valid and absolute.
That praise comes with a warning, however: "the desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us."
The Vatican's social communications head Archbishop Claudio Mario Celli was quick to clarify to the AP — as is often needed with some of Francis's statements — that the pope's remarks aren't a dogmatic or policy change in the church's stance on inter-religious exchanges.
While Francis has yet to change the dogma of the church, the distinct tone he's set in his first year as Pope has done a lot of work to symbolically rework the Vatican's image. His appeal goes beyond the Vatican's increasing embrace of social media, although he does have over 3 million Twitter followers. Without actually liberalizing the Catholic Church (which, frankly, would be a difficult and strange task for this pope to take on), liberals still love this pope because he appears to hold out the possibility of change. Maybe it's his stunning condemnations of global inequality that draws so much interest. Or maybe it's just this picture of Francis being adorable with an adorable lamb around his shoulders. Either way, he's winning the Internet on a regular basis.
Francis has previously demonstrated that the internet is just one more medium for the church to use to reach more people. Early in his papacy, Francis opened up indulgences — or, basically, "get out of purgatory sooner" cards — to anyone who faithfully followed the Catholic World Youth Day on Twitter. His reasoning? Not everyone can afford to snag the indulgences the more traditional way: by flying to Brazil for the conference.