Friday, January 29, 2010

Language lessons: New media test Vatican's digital fluency

Screen capture of the homepage of the Vatican's Web site for young people, (CNS/Vatican)

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI recently urged the world's priests to make better use of new media, but in his own backyard the digital revolution is still seen as a mixed blessing.

The Vatican Web site remains largely a repository of printed texts, displayed on pages designed to look like parchment. And despite more than a decade of discussion about making the site interactive, continues to provide information in one direction only: from them to you.

Some Vatican agencies have embraced the digital possibilities, notably Vatican Radio, which offers online broadcasts, podcasts and RSS feeds along with photos and print versions of major stories.

Other departments prefer to fly below the radar. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, for example, has posted exactly one new piece of information on its Web page over the last three years.

The impression that the Vatican is slow on the draw when it comes to Internet possibilities was confirmed recently when a "Vatican" Twitter feed turned out to be someone impersonating the Vatican. It was a fairly innocent case of Twitterjacking, but begged the question: Why doesn't the Vatican have a real Twitter feed?

Among the few Vatican officials willing to tackle these issues head-on is Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He met with reporters to present the pope's World Communications Day message Jan. 23, which called for better use of new media, and said it held lessons for everyone engaged in church ministry.

"The risk is that our sites will merely be places where information is posted, and not a real meeting ground," he said.

Archbishop Celli has helped prod the Vatican toward more interactivity. Last year, his council designed and launched a special Vatican Web site,, to bring the pope closer to a younger audience. It includes iPhone and Facebook applications, and visitors have used the site to send nearly 300,000 e-cards to their friends, each bearing a snippet of Pope Benedict's teaching.

Last Christmas, invited people to send personal photo-and-text Christmas greetings to the pope, which were then posted to a linked Flickr account. The response was overwhelming, with messages from believers and nonbelievers all over the world. In January, Archbishop Celli was busy putting together a representative selection in dossier form for the pope.


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