Pope can reach his followers via electronic media
Posted 3/17/2005 9:38 PM Updated 3/18/2005 10:33 AM
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
VATICAN CITY — The age of the virtual papacy may be about to begin.
A frail Pope John Paul II is not scheduled to appear outside his Vatican apartment during
Holy Week, which begins Sunday, meaning he'll have a limited schedule during the most
important eight days on the Roman Catholic calendar.
The pope is scheduled to preside only over the traditional Easter blessing on Sunday, March 27.
If his health allows, John Paul could participate in any of the seven other main Holy Week functions
he has delegated or left open.
The pontiff's condition means he may have to appear before his flock via a remote satellite hookup
while recuperating from an 18-day hospitalization. That reliance on digital technology could become
a regular feature for the rest of his papacy.
"I think we are entering into a period where the pope is seen more than heard, and where his
presence is felt more than he is seen," says Orazio Petrosillo, a veteran Vatican watcher who has
written two books about the Holy See. "But to whatever extent he is seen or heard, there is little doubt that it will be with the help of
The 84-year-old pope underwent a tracheotomy Feb. 24 to relieve breathing problems due to the flu. He also suffers from Parkinson's
disease and arthritis.
The move to put the pope on camera began when he missed a regular Wednesday audience last month. Last Sunday, the pope's
image was beamed from his hospital room to a pair of 33-foot-tall television screens in St. Peter's Square. That same day, a micro-
television camera recorded the pontiff's journey home from the Gemelli Polyclinic.
The pope is not the first to be limited by his health. Pius XII in the 1950s and Leo XIII half a century earlier were rarely seen in public
during their final years. But John Paul is the first to preside over the Vatican in an age where his physical deterioration is under the
glare of television lights.
Modern science is helping to prolong his life through surgery, air-filtering technology in his apartment and equipment that monitors
his health. Technology also plays a role in helping him stay in touch with the world's 1 billion Catholics. Late Thursday, the pope
greeted Catholic youths at a basilica in Rome by a video link from his Vatican apartment, the ANSA news agency reported.
"We are increasingly looking at the prospect of some kind of electronic or virtual papacy," says John Allen, a correspondent for the U.S.
-based National Catholic Reporter and the author of several books about the papacy. "We don't know exactly what that means yet, but
it will become clearer over time."
There has been a shift toward delegating most of the pope's responsibilities: New ambassadors to the Holy See present their
credentials to Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, who also filled in for the pope during the past three Sunday Angelus
readings. The day-to-day running of the church was handed over to lieutenants long ago.
Thomas Williams, dean of theology at Rome's Regina Apostolorum University, says little of that is important. "The Holy Father's main
role is as a spiritual leader, and there is no reason he cannot continue to play that role, sending a message about suffering and age,"
The Roman Catholic Church has often been quick to assimilate new technology, from the establishment of Vatican Radio in 1931 to
the Vatican's first Internet Web site in 1996, three years before the Italian government launched its first Web site. Even the famous
"Popemobile," the vehicle John Paul usually uses for transportation, was considered technologically advanced when it was first used
more than 20 years ago.
But Williams says, "I think these changes ... that are taking place and that could take place are part of a long-term evolution. The pope
will continue to do as much as he can the old-fashioned way. He won't say, 'I've got these means at my disposal now, so I will just
The Catholic faithful in St. Peter's Square say technology is not a major factor in their love for the pontiff.
"It doesn't matter one bit if he actually comes out to the plaza to meet the congregation or if he is televised," says Anne Trammel, 50, a
church employee from Chicago. "I don't think it would matter to any serious Catholic."
Copyright 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
This article originally appeared in
By Paolo Cocco, AP
The pope greets visiting youths by
video late Thursday.