When Virtually in Rome...Surfing the Vatican's Newly Dynamic Web Site

The last time I visited the Vatican site at vatican.va was to read the Holy Father’s new encyclical on the Eucharist in its relationship to the Church in April of 2003. My relationship with the Vatican website in the past had been a difficult one. When I was putting together my last book Catholics on the Internet 2000-2001 the Vatican site changed its URL naming convention at least two times. This forced me to keep updating the many links I had to their site. Just a note to those with websites out there – changing the name of already existing files on your website will cause dead links to all those who link to those webpages, including search engines and internet directories! On the positive side, the Vatican jumped on the Internet early and soon after added streaming Vatican TV and Radio.

Recently, a friend e-mailed telling me that the site had added the New American Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. These have been available on other web sites for some time so I didn’t give it much attention. Then someone told me the Vatican had revamped their website. Now that got me looking.

The first thing that caught my eye was the "Redemptoris Mater Chapel" with the words "Visit" next to it. So that is just what I did. This chapel is used by the Holy Father for his annual spiritual retreats as well as for homilies given during Advent and Lent. This chapel was completely redone with mosaics on the walls and ceiling as a gift to the Holy Father for his 50th anniversary to the priesthood. The chapel can be visited using Flash or Shockwave. I chose the latter as I have a broadband Internet connection. I was definitely impressed how I could pan around the chapel and zoom in on various mosaics with explanations.

Speaking of virtually looking around, the Vatican Museums online allows one to view the collections, read about the artworks, and zoom into the details of paintings, frescoes and artworks. There are virtual tours available. Having been to the real life museum, you will save yourself a lot of walking this way!

Sometimes on a website it’s hard to find what’s new. I like the link called "Latest." It really does give you the latest of what’s going on with the Holy Father, the Church, the Vatican and their website. Regarding the latter, it told me about another new feature: Interactive online cross-referencing between the Bible (NAB version), the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Click on one of these works and you can enable active links to the other two works referencing quotes, citations, footnotes and bibliographic material. A second phase is planned that will add active links from Papal documents to these three works. There is also an extensive concordance within each work.

The "Paths of the Spirit" link on the main page will bring you to selected writings of the Fathers of the Church and the Saints. When I clicked on the link nothing was listed in English. However, when I scrolled down to the bottom and selected "Search" I was able to search by Author or Month. I would suggest the Author choice. That will bring you to an alphabetical list where you can scroll down a list by the Author’s last name like "A". The month search when I looked ended with April 2003.

Choosing the "Saints" link will bring you to a webpage listing all those canonized and made Blessed by Pope John Paul II. For some, not all, you can see a photo or read their biography.

The "Liturgical Year" mouse rollover link brought me to a webpage with a circle depicting the various seasons of the Liturgy Year. Putting one’s mouse over the season shows the Liturgical Color for that time. There are links to the Pontifical Musical Chorus of the Sistine Chapel and the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music for each season. Music can be downloaded and played in MP3 format. By choosing a season and the year you will find yourself on a page indexing the Holy Father’s comments for that time. You may also find television clips and a Season’s Greeting.

World Youth Day, Peter’s Pence, and other links contain photos of the Holy Father in action as well as related links and commentary. You will want to check them out, especially if you attended some of these events.

Streaming audio and video on the Vatican site, Vatican TV and Radio, suffers from the same problem I am currently facing. RealPlayer was the dominant player for some years and the Vatican has encoded their streaming media using it. RealPlayer is a free download. However, Microsoft’s Windows Media Player (WMP) is on most computers included with Windows and has improved greatly. To reach the greatest audience, WMP is the webmaster’s medium of choice. I would think that like me the Vatican will eventually have to offer all their content in either format.

Like many websites, the Vatican website will have to continue to evolve to keep up with new technological methods of delivery over the Internet. There are certainly many other aspects of the Vatican website to explore like the 25th Anniversary of John Paul II’s Pontificate. Certainly the Vatican is following the Holy Father’s address to the Diocesan Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States on February 21, 2003 when he said, "The growth of the Internet in recent years provides an unprecedented opportunity for expanding the Church’s missionary outreach, since it has become a primary source of information and communication for so many of our contemporaries, especially the young."

For this month’s web picks I thought I would emphasize Catholic work/volunteer related sites.

I have mentioned job searching before. But I do believe there is no more rewarding job than working for the Church or Church related jobs. So how about checking out Catholic Careers at catholiccareers.com. You can search by region, job category or keyword or submit your resume.

The Catholic Relief Services at catholicrelief.org was founded by the Catholic Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and disadvantaged outside the country. Check out the "Get Involved" drop down list and other menu links.

Given the cold weather, perhaps now is the time to get involved with the Catholic Volunteers of Florida at cvif.org. CVs are involved in social work, shelters, health care, food banks, legal services, teaching, working with farm workers, senior citizens and in other fields.

The Catholic Worker at catholicworker.org were founded by Dorothy Day whose cause for sainthood has been introduced, have 185 communities dedicated to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms. See their volunteer opportunities link.

The Catholic University of America has the National Catholic School of Social Service at http://ncsss.cua.edu. NCSSS has more than 3,500 alumni, working throughout the nation and the world in the fields of child welfare, health and mental health, social policy, social justice and social work education.

Catholic Extension at catholicextension.org extends the Catholic Faith in mission dioceses of the United States where resources are insufficient. Catholic Extension builds awareness of mission needs and raises funds to spread the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Although not directly a volunteer group, they help support good work in this country.

The Christophers at christophers.org where started by Maryknoll Father James Keller. This Maryknoll priest believed that God has given each individual a special task in life which belongs to no one else. This sense of personal mission and the power of goodness is the heart of the Christopher message. It is summed up by the ancient Chinese proverb which has become their motto: "It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Certainly there are local opportunities for work/volunteers. See your diocesan website at usccb.org/bishops.htm and get involved today!

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org