Vatican website serves as an important resource since Pope John Paul OK'd it
By Tony Staley
Anyone seeking reliable information on the church can do what 2
million people a day do: Go to the Vatican website, www.vatican.va.
Soon, that number should reach 4 million a day because of the
recent addition of a virtual tour of the Vatican Museum.
The Vatican site is expanding rapidly - 90 new documents go
online each week, joining the 63,000 documents already there in
multiple languages for a total of 191,000 pages - two gigabytes of
Plus, U.S. donors are giving the Vatican more hardware,
including more workstations that computer science interns from
Villanova University in Pennsylvania will use to further enhance
How, in less than eight years, the Vatican went from zero web
presence to the most popular Catholic website is recounted in a
recent story by John Norton of Catholic News Service's Vatican
The story opens in 1995 with Joaquin Navarro-Valls, papal
spokesman and a web advocate, telling Pope John Paul about the
Internet and how it could help the church's mission.
"Are we already on the Internet?" the pope asked. "No, we're
not. Not yet," Navarro-Valls replied. "Well, who has to give the
go-ahead?" the pontiff countered.
"Holy Father, you've got to give it," Navarro-Valls answered
with a laugh. "Then do it immediately," the pope said.
Despite the papal go-ahead, other Vatican officials resisted,
thinking it too risky. But fortunately, the person who controlled
the money - Card. Edmund Szoka, former Archbishop of Detroit, was
willing to help.
Card. Szoka phoned donors in the United States, who contributed
$55,000 to launch the project, which was staffed by an Argentine
layman and U.S. Sr. Judith Zoebelein of the Vatican's computer
acquisition and support office.
Next, U.S. Abp. John Foley, head of the Vatican's council for
social communications, convinced international Internet regulators
to grant the site its unique ".va" suffix.
The site went online on Christmas Day 1995 with a single page
containing the pope's Christmas homily and blessing and a link to
send him an e-mail. In the first 48 hours, more than 300,000 people
from 70 countries visited the site. About 1,000 people left
Even though the pope and other church officials found the
feedback gratifying, the site lay dormant until Easter 1997 when it
began looking as it does today - thanks in part, at least twice, to
personal intervention by the pope.
Look for the site to become more interactive, possibly with a
global search engine of Catholic sites. To visit, go to www.vatican.va
(there's a link to it and to sites for the U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Green Bay Diocese on our website, www.thecompassnews.org). Happy surfing.