Despite his warning, Pope Benedict XVI - pictured here with Germany's Lutheran bishop Johannes Friedrich - accepted that nline social networks were now an "integral part of human life".

The Pope on Monday warned youngsters not to choose a virtual world on the internet over real-life experiences.

He insisted they were in danger of alienation and detachment from reality by excessive use of digital media.

Although Pope Benedict XVI did not name sites such as Facebook or Twitter, he alluded to “sharing”, “friends” and “profiles” - jargon commonly used on the social networking sites. The 83-year-old leader of the Roman Catholic Church claimed it was a mistake to seek more virtual friends that real ones when so many internet users created public profiles that were either self-indulgent or plainly false.

He also said it was wrong to always be available online but “less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life”.

“It is important to remember virtual contact must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives,” the Pope said. “In the search for sharing, for ‘friends’, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.”

He accepted, however, online social networks were now an “integral part of human life” and encouraged Christians “confidently and with an informed and creative responsibility” to use them to spread the Gospel.

“The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons,” he said. “In this field too we are called to proclaim our faith.”

The Pope does not have a Facebook account and is not known to surf the internet or read blogs. He also writes most of his speeches in long-hand. His comments came in a message released on Monday ahead of the 45th World Communications Day in June. - Daily Mail