Pope Benedict XVI told church leaders Thursday that the Catholic Church should embrace social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread faith to the next generation.
The 85-year-old pontiff said the trend could help the church as it struggles to keep followers and attract new ones in a society of religious apathy, scandals, and competition from other churches.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the Vatican's communications office, cited a 2012 study commissioned by U.S. bishops that found that 53 percent of Americans were unaware of any significant presence of the Catholic Church online.
Other studies found the Millennial generation, or people born after 1982, use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube far more than their parents as primary sources of information, entertainment, and sharing political views and community issues
Last month the pope made headlines by joining Twitter even though he still writes longhand. He has 2.5 million Twitter followers, nearly 11,000 of them following his Latin tweets alone.
The Holy See has also greatly increased its presence online, with YouTube channels, papal Apps, and an online news portal that gathers all Vatican information in one place.
Pope Benedict's message this year repeated exhortations from previous years about the need for respectful dialogue online, for users to present themselves authentically and to listen, not just preach.