Mark Zuckerberg discusses the power of technology with Pope Francis

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg ditched his trademark hoodie in exchange for a dark suit as he met with Pope Francis at the pontiff's Santa Marta residence in the Vatican.

Osservatore Romano//Reuters
Pope Francis shakes hands with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a meeting at the Vatican Monday.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, met with an unlikely partner on Monday to discuss the future of social media: the pope.

While Pope Francis has voiced optimism in the past for the internet's ability to connect people, he has also been hesitant to deem social networks such as Facebook an entirely positive force, warning of their potential to isolate, as well as bring together, users.

One topic of discussion for Monday's meeting at the Vatican was "how to use communication technologies to alleviate poverty, encourage a culture of encounter, and make a message of hope arrive, especially to those most in need," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told the Associated Press.

The pope's relationship with such technologies is a complicated one. In 2014, Francis described the internet as a "gift from God" for its ability to bring people together.

"A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive," he said. "Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity...This is something truly good."

But the pope, who currently has 9.75 million followers on Twitter, has also warned people of the dangers of social media. Later that year, he urged 50,000 German altar servers not to "waste too many hours on futile things," such as "chatting on the Internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas, and (using) the products of technological progress, which should simplify and improve the quality of life, but distract attention away from what is really important."

In the pope's encyclical letter published last November, he warned readers once again of the dangers of "mental pollution," writing, "When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously."

Despite Francis's reservations about social media, experts say it's a necessary tool when it comes to connecting with younger generations of Catholics.

"The Pope has to get the church to open up and connect and meet people where they are. He can't do it door-to-door," Jason Deal, the executive vice president of strategy at the Catholic media firm Aleteia USA, told Wired last year. "We believe what the Vatican is saying is technology can be very isolating. But he also understands and appreciates, especially when it comes to young people, that it is where they live their lives to a large degree."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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