Vatican Looks to the Web to Communicate its Message
Posted November 23, 1999
VATICAN CITY — Communication has always been important for religious groups and churches. The early church used great works of art to explain their message, but times have radically changed.
The Roman Catholic Church, which is so steeped in tradition, is now on the cutting edge when it comes to communicating its message. It is an idea that has the Pope's blessing.
It is Sunday mid-morning in Vatican City and thousands of people have begun packing St. Peter's Square. Roman Catholics gathered here are waiting for a blessing from the man they call the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II
The Pope uses a window from his living quarters of the 500-year-old Apostolic Palace to overlook the square, and communicate with the faithful. Just three floors below, he uses today's technology to communicate with the world.
The Vatican has its own Web site. Four full-time staffers work the keyboards atVatican: The Holy See.
It is a detailed site full of history, current events, and Papal papers in six languages.
The site looks much different from the day it was launched four years ago.
"They said 'Try it. Try a page, you know. Do one thing, and see what the response is. Who knows?' Well, it was an enormous success," says Sister Julia, the site's Webmaster.
Through this technology, the church hears from people around the world who want the teachings of today, and of centuries past.
"It's the same teaching that doesn't change," she says. But it's reapplied over the centuries, and cultures and mentalities. And it has to be continually respoken. It's what the Holy Father calls the 'new evangelization,'" she says.
The new evangelization is guarded by familiar names. Michael, Raphael and Gabriel are the angels watching over the Web site; the firewall to keep hackers out.
"Michael protects against the devil, the evil part of the external world," explains Francesco Emmolo, Web site manager.
Some of the world's largest computer companies donated this multi-million dollar system.
Unlike other parts of the Vatican complex, there is no gold, mosaics or statues online.
But what is painted and sculpted through this Web may have an even greater impact, giving those who work here a chance to practice what they preach.
"The spiritual dimension of technology is what my work is all about," says Sister Julia. "You cannot separate the religious part of your life from your work, and so I think that's one reason why we're able to do what we do here with only four people. You know there really is a sense of mission."
The Vatican Web site receives 10 to 12 million hits a month.