Vatican goes tech with Pope’s death

By : |April 4, 2005 0

By Phil Stewart

VATICAN CITY: It took just minutes for the Vatican to alert the world’s media of Pope John Paul’s death — using text messages and email so the 2,000-year-old Church could meet the new demands of real-time news.

Just a quarter of an hour after the Pope was pronounced dead on Saturday at 9:37 p.m. (1937 GMT), the Vatican sent journalists an SMS message alerting them to a pending statement.

Television networks across the globe were already on standby a minute later when the email communique was beamed to a sea of state-of-the-art handheld computers, purchased by journalists at the suggestion of the Vatican.

“The Holy father died this evening at 21:37 in his private apartment,” it said, in a simple Word document.

TV spectators across the globe learned of the Pope’s death even before the thousands of faithful gathered in prayer below the Pope’s window in St. Peter’s Square.

Archbishop Leonardo Sandri only informed them minutes later and their reaction — a long round of applause, an Italian custom — was captured on television in real time.

During John Paul’s life and after his death, the Vatican was at pains to accommodate the mass media, which closely followed the 84-year-old Pope’s decline and spells in hospital.

Medical bulletins this year gave brief snapshots of the Pontiff’s condition, growing increasingly pessimistic as they prepared the world for the worst.

It was a marked break from the secrecy surrounding previous pontificates, even as recently as the 1960s. The Vatican, for example, kept Pope John XXIII’s inoperable stomach cancer secret until just a few days before he died in June 1963.

The Pope himself wrote in a February letter that the Church should not be shy of using the media, including the Internet, to spread its message, saying the “mass media can and must promote justice and solidarity”.

For the faithful, the extremely public suffering and death of John Paul became a central part of his message and inspired comparisons with Jesus Christ.

Stricken with illnesses including Parkinson’s Disease, he was unable to walk or, in the final weeks, speak publicly.

“For me, his suffering had purpose,” said Sonia Stipa, 41, holding a candle in St. Peter’s Square. “It was like the pain that Jesus endured for humanity.”

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