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Pope Francis, Meet Facebook

You may have heard that Pope Francis recently met with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan. While many news sources covered this meeting, The Atlantic published a thoughtful essay on the event that I encourage you to read. The author, Emma Green, quotes a Vatican source that said the couple met with Pope Francis to speak about how to use communications technology to “alleviate poverty, encourage a culture of encounter, and to communicate a message of hope, especially to the most disadvantaged.”

Although reports seem to show this was a positive meeting, Green points out that this encounter juxtaposed two very different views on technology, even if they were unspoken: Zuckerberg’s believes that technology can save the world, while Francis rightly sees technology as dangerous when seen as a savior. As Green notes:

Ultimately, Francis … has critiqued what he sees as the abstraction of digital culture. Media can “shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences,” he wrote in Laudato Si. “For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

Given this harsh critique, perhaps Zuckerberg is one of the people Francis would most like to get to know and persuade of his views—the Facebook CEO has real power to influence the culture of abstraction Francis so despises. The pope and Zuckerberg have both spoken about their commitment to helping the world’s poorest people. Even though they have different worldviews and approaches to that goal, perhaps both saw the meeting as a learning opportunity or a chance to join forces, in whatever limited way, to further their goals.

 Despite Francis’s concerns about technology, this meeting, along with his separate meetings with the CEOs of Google and Apple in January,  illustrates the way the Holy Father is inclining the Church to embrace the “theology of encounter” in every possible domain. Although we might struggle with the moral positions held by many of these “captains of the universe,” the pope’s meeting with Zuckerberg and his wife was a positive development. Francis is clearly on the move in his effort to use any and all moral (or morally neutral) means necessary to move the Church from its comfort zone—and to also engage the world for the sake of the saving Gospel.

As an aside, I also think it is probably no coincidence that a few days after Pope Francis’ meeting with Zuckerberg, Crux released an article with the headline, “Vatican Promotes Mercy in Social Media with #BeMercy.”  The #BeMercy initiative, initiated by the Vatican’s Office for the New Evangelization, encourages “workers of mercy” to post images of how they are serving others. Expect more of these initiatives.