Vatican to Use iPods to Enable "Those who want to enter into a basilica to pray…to pray"

Talk about serving the sheep and the goats:

Vatican hopes iPod can bring silence to Rome’s churches
By David Kerr

A pilgrim uses an iPod provided by the Vatican’s Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi.

Rome, Italy, Jun 24, 2011 / 06:10 am (CNA/EWTN News) – The Vatican has introduced a new way of keeping silence in their churches while also informing tourists – the iPod.

Today is the first full day of a trial which sees pilgrims to the basilica of St. John Lateran given the audio-guide with a special app explaining the 1,700-year history of the church, which serves as the Pope’s cathedral.

“I can easily say that in Italy there are no examples of experiences like this in religious contexts, probably not even those in museums,” Jelena Jovanovic said to CNA. Her company, Antenna International, created the handheld device.

The multi-lingual guide offers audio, video, photos and texts to give an interactive experience to pilgrims. It also provides historical re-enactments narrated by actors.

Tourists can now listen to the experience of their fellow pilgrims from centuries past or even a “first-hand” account of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, when the Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky and converted to Christianity.

But the primary purpose of the guide is not entertainment or even education – it’s prayer and silence.

Bishop Luca Brandolini, the head of Pastoral Care for the Diocese of Rome, explained to CNA that “Unfortunately, our basilicas have become more like noisy meeting places at many times.”

“We need to bring back a place and time for silence. So I think this audio-guide will help achieve that.”

The Managing Director of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican body that oversees all pilgrim activity in the Diocese of Rome, agrees.

“Those who want to enter into a basilica to pray must be able to pray. So this multimedia guide helps with that,” said Fr. Caesar Atuire.

“Everyone can now do what they have to do without disturbing others.”

There is no charge for the use of the guide, but pilgrims do have to leave a document, such as a passport, as security.

The Vatican will monitor the experiment at St. John Lateran until December. Then officials will decide whether or not to roll the scheme out to other basilicas and churches in the Diocese of Rome.

Starting with Blessed John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization and coming to fruition under the poinficate of Benedict VXI, the Vatican’s use of technology and social media is taking off. I think many will agree that, at least, initially the Vatican seemed a little lost and/or possibly overwhelmed with the whole Web 2.0 culture. However, the inspiritatrion and call of the “Great Commission” certainly certainly aided the recent developments coming from the grass roots that are the laity.

This inventive twist on audio tours is something of a compromise between the sacred and the secular. As the Fr. Atuire is quoted above, “those who want to…pray…must be able to pray.” Likewise, the treasures of the Church “belong to all” and thus accessablity to the “visible” Church is something that has never been denied but up until was often at the sacfrice of the faithful.

I can personally attest to this when I visited Cathedral Basiclica of St. Louis, King of France in New Orleans during French Quarter Fest. Entering the Cathedral, which is stunning by the way, felt more like a tour rather than a time for prayer. This even carried on into the Mass. The celebrants did well and God, of course, prevailed in the hearts of the faithful but nonetheless, revrent silence is more condusive to proper devotion and meditation than fighting the destractions of those coming only to see the “nice art.”

On the flip side, a trip to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in St. Louis offered a quite different experiance. May be it was the fact Eucharistic Adoration was happening in one of the interior side-chapels or the fact that this cathedral was simply jaw-dropping but either way – any person who entered was silenced.

In any event, this initiative will surely succeed in more ways than one. How it develops will be interesting to witness.

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