VATICAN CITY -- It took just minutes for the Vatican to alert the world's
media of Pope John Paul's death -- using text messages and e-mail so the
2,000-year-old Church could meet the new demands of real-time news.
Just a quarter of an hour after the Pope was pronounced dead Saturday at
9:37 p.m., the Vatican sent journalists an SMS message alerting them to a
pending statement. Television networks across the globe were already on
standby a minute later when the e-mail communique was beamed to a sea of
handheld computers, purchased by journalists at the "The Holy father died
this evening at 21:37 in his private apartment," the e-mail message said.
TV spectators across the globe thus learned of the Pope's death even
before the thousands of faithful gathered in prayer below the Pope's
window in St. Peter's Square. Archbishop Leonardo Sandri informed the
crowd minutes later and their reaction -- a long round of applause, an
Italian custom -- was captured on television in real time.
During John Paul's life and after his death, the Vatican was at pains to
accommodate the mass media, which closely followed the 84-year-old Pope's
decline and spells in hospital. Medical bulletins this year gave brief
snapshots of the Pontiff's condition, growing increasingly pessimistic as
they prepared the world for the worst.
It was a marked break from the secrecy surrounding previous pontificates,
even as recently as the 1960s. The Vatican, for example, kept Pope John
XXIII's inoperable stomach cancer secret until just a few days before he
died in June 1963.
The Pope himself wrote in a February letter that the Church should not be
shy of using the media, including the internet, to spread its message,
saying the "mass media can and must promote justice and solidarity."
For the faithful, the extremely public suffering and death of John Paul
became a central part of his message and inspired comparisons with Jesus
Christ. Stricken with illnesses including Parkinson's disease, he was
unable to walk or, in the final weeks, speak publicly.
"For me, his suffering had purpose," said Sonia Stipa, 41, holding a
candle in St. Peter's Square. "It was like the pain that Jesus endured for
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