As steadfast as John Paul II was in maintaining centuries' old traditions, he was also the pope who presided over the church's adaptation of modern technology, setting precedents even in death.
came in the form of an official e-mail sent to journalists. Vatican press officials also used SMS messages ("short message service," also known as "texting") to beam alerts on upcoming news bulletins to journalists' cell phones. Video images of the pope's body lying in state have been beamed to the world via satellite and over the Internet.
John Paul II was elected Pope in October of 1978, a year after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak introduced the . Computers and e-mail were in their infancy and the World Wide Web hadn't yet been invented.
But as the world embraced technology, so did the Vatican - launching the Holy See Web site in 1995, in the early stage of the dot com boom. In 2003, the Church launched the Vatican Museums Web site, providing online access to its 500-year-old art collection as well as virtual tours of the Vatican Museums.
The Pope had his own email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and
was the first pontiff to be photographed at the keyboard of a computer, sending an e-mail to his bishops.
The Church also used cell phone SMS to send out daily messages based on papal speeches and daily homilies. Last year, the Vatican entered into message distribution deals with Verizon Wireless and other carriers.
In 2002, the Pope addressed the topic of the Internet in a speech entitled "Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel," in which he demonstrated an understanding of both the positive potential and the risks of the new medium.
"Like the new frontiers of other times," said the pope, "this one too is full of the interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great periods of change."
He pointed out that the Internet "opens up wonderful possibilities for spreading the Gospel," wisely adding "it is also true that electronically mediated relationships can never take the place of the direct human contact."
The church has been conducting a search for a patron saint for the Internet and computers. A leading candidate is seventh century Archbishop Isadore of Seville, author of the "Etymologiae," which some have called the world's first encyclopedia.
There is even a proposed prayer in honor of the new patron saint, which would read, in part: "During our journeys through the Internet, we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter."
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid
Copyright 2005 CBS. All rights reserved.