Vatican embraces 'iGod' generation

In the beginning there was ... Madonna. Now you can also download Pope Benedict XVI into your iPod.

Inspired by Vatican documents that called on Catholic Church officials to exploit the full potentials of the computer age, the Holy See’s official broadcaster, Vatican Radio, is “podcasting” audio content to any of the world’s one-billion-plus Catholics who own a portable MP3 player.

The service, launched with little fanfare during the summer, has proved unexpectedly popular.

“It has been a success right from the start,” says Jean-Charles Putzolu, of the Vatican Radio’s web team.

Podcasting is a term that refers to an automated way of making audio files, such as radio shows, available for download over the internet.
It gives broadcasters a new and highly flexible distribution method as users can save the file on their player and then listen to it whenever and wherever they prefer—for instance, while travelling on an underground train.

“Godcasting”, “iGod” and “podpreachers” are just some of the terms circulating on the internet and used to describe its usage in the world of religion.

Often accused of being old-fashioned, the Vatican is an early adapter when it comes to this relatively new technology.

“I have just come back from a conference abroad on international radio and I can assure you that Vatican Radio, like the BBC, is at the forefront in the podcasting world,” Putzolu said.

Vatican Radio began its podcasting service in mid-August by making available for download an interview given to Polish television in which Pope Benedict remembers his predecessor, John Paul II.

Initially available only in Italian, the interview became one of the most downloaded podcasts in Italy.

The radio station has since expanded operations and now offers constantly updated services in 14 languages.

“Our long-term aim is to expand the service to comprise all of the 39 languages in which Vatican radio broadcasts,” Putzolu explained.

Civilta’ Cattolica, a magazine run by Italy’s Jesuits, says all preachers should be encouraged to use podcasting as a means of spreading God’s message, particularly among the young.

To shy away from podcasting “because of a fear of technology or any other reason”, the bimonthly’s latest edition warns priests, “is not acceptable”.

Vatican Radio’s podcasts are a natural consequence of ideas expressed a few years before his death by the late John Paul II, who once described the internet as providing “magnificent opportunities for evangelisation” and who in 2001 became the first pope to send an official document via e-mail.

Since 1996, the Holy See has had its own website, which publishes thousands of Church documents and papal speeches.—Sapa-DPA

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