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Pope Francis received Mark Zuckerberg, founder, Facebook chairman and CEO. “The Holy Father – announced the director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Greg Burke – has received today Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, who was accompanied by his wife, Priscilla Chan. The Pope and Zuckerberg, reads a note of the director of the Vatican press office, Greg Burke, “talked about how to use communications technology to relieve poverty, encourage a culture of mutual acceptance and bring a message of hope, especially to needy people.”

The head of the popular social network, 32, is today in Rome for a conference at the Luiss University and a meeting with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at Palazzo Chigi. The young American Jew had welcomed the pontiff, five months ago, when the Pope had just opened an account on Instagram: “Welcome to Instagram, Pope Francis!” he wrote on Facebook. “No matter what faith we practice, we can all be inspired by Pope Francis’ humbleness and compassion. I cannot wait to follow the pope – and see him continue to share his message of mercy, equality, and justice with the world.”

The Pope is not present on Facebook, the social networking service created on 4 February, 2004 by 5 college students. In addition to Instagram, however, his nine Twitter accounts in as many languages have recently exceeded 30 million followers. The Pope also used several times the Google digital platform, “Hangouts”, to chat live with students from around the world as part of the educational project sponsored by the foundation Scholas Occurrentes. In his message written for the same annual event in 2014, the Pope wrote: “The Internet can offer more occasions to meet people and cultivate solidarity among all people, and this is a good thing, a gift from God.”

The hearing with Zuckerberg is not the first one the Pope gives to the Silicon Valley heads. On 15 January, Pope Francis had received in a strictly private manner, Eric Schmidt, Google executive chairman and former CEO, accompanied by Jared Cohen, head of Google Ideas. A few days later, on 22 January, Francis had also received Timothy (Tim) Cook, Apple CEO, who followed the founder, Steve Jobs. In November 2014 the Pope had greeted, on the sidelines of a general papal audience, Melinda Gates, wife of the inventor of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and the inspirer – along with the latter – of their philanthropic foundation. Zuckerberg is involved in educational and philanthropic activities too.

A sign of attention Pope Francis shows towards modern means of communication: “Even e-mail, sms, social networks, and chats can be fully human forms of communication”, wrote the last message for World Communications Day, on 24 January. “It is not technology that determines if communication is authentic or not, but the heart of the Man and his ability to make good use of the means at its disposal. Social networks are able to foster relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to a further polarization and division among people and groups. The digital environment is a square, a meeting place, where you can caress or hurt, have a fruitful discussion or moral lynching. I pray that the Jubilee Year lived in mercy will make us more open to dialogue in order to better know and understand each other; eliminate all forms of rejection and contempt, and eject all forms of violence and discrimination’. True citizenship is built also on the Internet. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility before the other, whom we do not see but who is real, has its own dignity, which we need to respect. The network can be used to grow a healthy society open to participation.”

Originally designed exclusively to allow communication among students of the Harvard University, then for all applicants no less than 13 years of age, Facebook has quickly become the second most visited site in the world after Google, but it is a research engine, outdoing YouTube, which had held the second place for years. It is available in over 70 languages and in April 2016 it had approximately 1.65 billion monthly active users, ranking as the first social networking service for the number of active users worldwide.

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