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 CNS Story:

VATICAN LETTER Dec-9-2005 (860 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Media empire: Vatican moves from pen and parchment to DVDs, Web

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Two hundred years ago, popes communicated with pen on parchment, in documents and letters secured with sealing wax.

Today, Pope Benedict XVI's teachings and speeches are flashed around the world in real time on the Internet, and he is the star of the Vatican's own Web site.

He gives interviews to Vatican Radio, and many of his daily events are broadcast via CTV, the Vatican Television Center, which runs a webcam on St. Peter's Square.

The pope's mission is reflected in the Vatican's own newspaper, publishing house and printing presses. The Vatican press office organizes reporting pools and doses out official information to more than 400 permanently accredited journalists.

Meanwhile, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications deals with photo, TV and radio reporters at the Vatican, helping them access what has become a global hot zone for news.

The council, headed by U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley, also incorporates a film library and screening room, where in recent years Pope John Paul II would sometimes drop in to view movies and hobnob with actors and producers.

The universe of Vatican communications has enjoyed a big bang in recent decades, but it's expanded in so many different directions that coordination is sometimes problematic.

In early December, the Vatican's top communicators stepped into yet another medium and released a 43-minute DVD that, for the first time, offers a video tour of the Vatican's media empire.

It's a modest effort but makes for intriguing viewing, because it goes behind the Vatican walls and shows real people doing their jobs. Viewers see archive film being digitized, meet Vatican Radio's multicultural lineup of announcers, watch bookbinders put the finishing touches on important papal works and sneak a peek behind the scenes at the Vatican's growing Internet office.

Produced by Archbishop Foley's council and CTV, the DVD is being issued in four languages, including English, and includes in HTML format a long list of important papal and Vatican texts on communications.

It uses the papal death and conclave last April to showcase how Vatican media interface with the world. Archbishop Foley's office alone accredited 4,853 journalists during that period.

Along with scenes from Pope John Paul's funeral and Pope Benedict's election, the DVD shows journalists covering the events, the Vatican newspaper printing special editions and the Vatican's Web sites dealing with a record number of hits.

To gauge how much communications practices have changed, consider this single fact: The Vatican press office first announced news of the pope's death April 2 via an urgent e-mail to journalists, preceded by a cell phone text alert.

For years, rumors have circulated that Vatican communications would undergo a major reorganization. After Pope Benedict was elected, the buzz grew louder: A "super-department" might be formed to take control of everything from media accreditation to pamphlet publication.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of Vatican Radio and CTV, said he's heard the same rumors. In a sense, he said, the new DVD tries to outline what would be involved in such a reorganization and show that Vatican media already recognize the need to cooperate.

Some think a communications superstructure may be difficult to implement at the Vatican. For one thing, communications used to be channeled through one or two official conduits. But today many Vatican departments have their own publications, organize their own conferences and operate their own Web sites.

The Congregation for Clergy, for example, runs its own Internet site -- www.clerus.org, independent from the Vatican's main www.vatican.va site -- and uses it frequently to stream international teleconferences on a variety of topics.

Another practical issue is that many of the Vatican's communications departments are run or heavily influenced by specific religious orders or other church organizations. The Jesuits manage Vatican Radio, Salesian priests hold key positions in Vatican publishing and printing, Opus Dei has top people in the Vatican press office, and the Internet office is now directed by a Legionaries of Christ priest.

The common perception, even inside the Vatican, is that any major media reorganization would have to overcome some "turf protection" attitudes.

Pope Benedict has not divulged whatever restructuring plans he may have. In the meantime, although known as a private person, he has been omnipresent in the Vatican's media mix. Since his election, he's already published two books, given interviews to radio and TV, issued documents, viewed and commented on feature films, and filled up hundreds of Vatican Web pages with texts, speeches, sermons and images.

It's not known whether the pope is an avid newspaper reader, but a recent full-page ad in L'Osservatore Romano shows him at his desk reading, logically, L'Osservatore Romano.

At Christmas, the pope is likely to receive an avalanche of electronic messages as the Vatican Web site highlights his e-mail address online and invites Christmas greetings. Early birds can send greetings now to benedictxvi@vatican.va.

The pope is unlikely to hit "reply," preferring to deliver his greetings in more traditional ways -- cards for the lucky few, and a blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world) for all the rest.

END


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