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Deliver us from social media, pontiff prays

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Will Pavia, Tom Kington New York

September 28 2015

He has been called the Cool Pope, a pontiff with a Twitter account whose selfies with the faithful became viral hits on Facebook.

Yesterday, however, he turned his fire on social media, saying it was causing deep loneliness and fear of commitment among young people.

“I would dare say that at the root of so many contemporary situations is a kind of radical loneliness that so many people live in today,” he said. Referring, obliquely, to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, he said that so many were now “running after the latest fad: a ‘like’, accumulating followers on any of the social networks”.

The Pope himself has 7.4 million Twitter followers. Welcoming him to the US, President Obama noted that he was the first to issue a papal encyclical on Twitter. Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary-general, praised the Pope as a man who appeared, “not in official portraits, but in ‘selfies’ with young people”.

Yesterday, the pontiff advised his flock to avoid getting too “caught up” in the prism of social media. The result was “loneliness, with fear of commitment and an endless effort to feel recognised”, he said.

The Pope was addressing bishops and priests in the church of St Charles Borromeo Seminary, an imposing religious college in northwest Philadelphia. Sounding at times rather like a nagging mother lamenting her feckless children’s refusal to settle down, he said that bishops should encourage young members of their flocks to marry.

In an aside that prompted laughter, the Pope said that “in Buenos Aires, many women are telling me: ‘My son is 34 years old and he is not getting married. I don’t know what to do.’ And I say: ‘Don’t iron his shirts anymore’.”

Today’s culture “seemed to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone”, he added. He said that the world was once akin to a neighbourhood shop, which “had everything one needed for personal and family life” and where “there was a personal bond between the shopkeeper and his customers”.

“Then a different kind of store grew up: the supermarket. The world seems to have become one of these supermarkets: our culture has become more and more competitive. There are no longer close personal relationships.”

As he spoke, vast crowds were gathering on Benjamin Franklin Parkway for an outdoor mass: the last event on what has been a gruelling itinerary.

Before addressing the bishops, the Pope met victims of the sexual abuse scandal which has shaken the Roman Catholic Church in America and elsewhere.

“I have heard in my heart these stories of suffering,” he said, in unscripted comments at the start of his address in the seminary. “God weeps for sexual abuse of children,” he said, adding that he would “zealously” protect young people and ensure that “all those responsible are held accountable”.

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