I'm fascinated by comments Pope Francis made on virtual relationships and the vast amounts of information passing through our lives. These comments haven't received a lot of attention in the media, but they contain a great deal of insight into the experiences of humanity in the 21st century.
The pope was asked about young people's attraction to "virtual relationships" and how to help them escape "their world of fantasy" and to experience "real relationships."
The pope said there was a difference between fantasy and online interactions because "sometimes virtual relationships are not imaginary, but are concrete" and real.
However, he said, the best thing is for people to have real, physical interaction and contact with each other.
He said the big risk he sees is with people's ability to gather such a huge amount of information that nothing is done with it and it has no impact on changing lives. He said this process turns young people into a sort of "youth museum."
"A youth museum is very well-informed, but what does he or she do with all that knowledge?" Having a rich fruitful life is not found in "the accumulation of information or just through virtual communication, but in changing the reality of existence. In the end, it means loving," reaching out to people physically, touching the world and moving forward with one's life.
Amazing words, especially coming from the leader of a religious institution which isn't known for being on the cutting edge of technological insights. (And before anyone mentions it, yes, the term "youth museum" is a bit clunky. But that's probably an aspect of the translation of the pope's original words.)
No matter whether you believe in religion or not, or support or disagree with the pope's other views and statements, there's insight in the pope's words about both virtual relationships and how we handle the vast amounts of information pouring through our lives and minds.
I believe how we handle these aspects of modern life will be one of humanity's defining issues over the next few decades. And based on the words of Pope Francis, he likely sees this challenge in a similar way.