Elizabeth Scalia

Pope Francis seeking a Year of Mercy, even in the online land of the trolls

Pope Francis has promoted the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in many symbolic ways, from spectacular liturgical rites to quiet gestures of forgiveness to sinners who have sought his help.

Now, the social-media star @Pontifex is saying that acts of grace, kindness and mercy should even be attempted by believers whose work and private affairs take them into one of modern life's harshest environments -- cyberspace.

"Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart," argued Francis, in a statement marking the 50th World Communications Day. It was released at the same time as a private meeting between the pope and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"Social networks," wrote Francis, "can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division. … The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. … Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbor whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected."

Believers can stand firm in defending the faith, he said, but "even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil" it's essential that they not resort to using words and arguments that "try to rupture relationships."

Alas, there's the rub, especially when "trolls" wreck havoc in online communities.

Rosary prayers and the hellish death of journalist James Foley

When a believer is immersed in the rosary, the familiar phrases of the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Doxology find a soft rhythm, as clicking beads mix with steady breaths and the human heart. 

While meditating on each great mystery of the faith, the final words of the Hail Mary prayers are particularly sobering: "Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." 

The prayers are "like a pulse that sinks deep inside and goes on and on as you meditate on how these mysteries are connected to your life," said writer Elizabeth Scalia, known as "The Anchoress" among Catholic bloggers. 

"I think all the mysteries would have offered inspiration and consolation to James Foley" while in captivity, she said, as he "faced the fact that his life was truly in danger."