"Make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications," the pope said.

The Christian message "can traverse the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different 'highways' that form cyberspace and show that God has his rightful place in every age, including our own," he said.

 
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"Priests stand at the threshold of a new era," the 82-year-old pope said. "As new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word."

Embracing the "almost limitless expressive capacity" of digital communication, Benedict said the technology "requires (priests) to become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts."

The head of the Roman Catholic Church urged priests nevertheless to stay true to their vocation.

"Priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ," he said. "This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a 'soul' to the fabric of communications that makes up the web."

The head of the Vatican's social communications advisory council said the message was aimed at encouraging a new look at the "Church's pastoral action today in the digital world."

The pope is urging priests to consider not only "those already in the Church bu also an opening to those with other religious aspirations as well as non-believers," Claudio Maria Celli told a news conference.

The Vatican has long had a website, now in eight languages, and a year ago it created a news channel on the YouTube video sharing site.

Since May 2009, the Church entered the world of social networking on the Internet by creating a Facebook site dubbed Pope2You.

Celli said the site received nearly two million visits over the Christmas holidays.

The Roman Catholic Church established World Communications Day, which is on May 16, in 1966.

This year's theme is "The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word." - Sapa-AFP