Monsignor Peter Wells of the Vatican's secretariat of state said the broadcaster must embrace new media - "from the podcast to the iPad, from social networks like Facebook to micro-blogging platforms like Twitter" - to take advantage of the opportunities offered for evangelizing in the 21st century.
He said the radio station must continue to be the voice that contests those who say the church is not capable of inner renewal, "showing instead the tireless desire for purification expressed by her supreme pastor." It needs to be the voice that promotes religious freedom and calls for dialogue in a world increasingly in conflict, he added.
"All of us here know that the new media are absolutely essential, if Vatican Radio is to succeed in being such a voice."
Wells spoke at a ceremony launching the broadcaster's anniversary, which is being marked by a small exhibit inside the entrance to the Vatican Museums and a series of other initiatives.
Among the many exhibits are the microphone used by Pope Pius XI when he inaugurated the broadcaster on Feb. 12, 1931, photographs of various popes launching new transmitters and an audio section that allows listeners to hear various papal broadcasts over the years.
A book tracing the last 30 years of Vatican Radio's history, "From Megahertz to Gigabyte: Vatican Radio from John Paul II to Benedict XVI" is also due out in the fall; a previous book published in 1981 covered the broadcaster's first half-century.
Wells said the Vatican was heading toward increasing convergence of its communications branches, Vatican Radio and Vatican Television in particular, that he said would establish a "permanent presence of the Holy See in the world of new media."
Officials are also working on a new web portal for Vatican news and information. The Vatican's current website is www.vatican.va.
The Vatican has often been criticized for its communications, accused of being slow to react to news and of seeing the pope's message get mumbled. Wells' speech implied there was increasing understanding within the upper echelons of the Holy See of the importance of getting the Vatican's message out quickly and correctly.
"Not having new technical tools at one's full disposal, or not knowing about the most current tools, will mean that one's message will arrive late, will arrive wrong, and might even arrive in vain," he said. "It is therefore essential for Vatican Radio to continue to adapt to these new tools if it wants to be the engine of new forms of consciousness, of awareness: in other words, of a new culture."
Soon after Italy and the Vatican signed a 1929 treaty governing their relations, Pius XI tasked Italian inventor and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi with building a radio station inside the Vatican. Pius XI said he wanted in particular to communicate the church's message to parts of the world where totalitarian regimes stifled the faith.
During World War II, Vatican Radio - like the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano - was a sought-after source of independent information since other Italian media were censored by dictator Benito Mussolini's regime.
In recent years, Vatican Radio has become more integrated with Vatican Television as the Holy See has become more focused on getting its message out online, with a dedicated YouTube channel and Twitter accounts.
Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out frequently about the importance of engaging in social networks and the new media, most recently in his message for the church's World Day of Social Communications. But he has urged a "Christian style" of engagement that is respectful and discreet.
Vatican Radio is at www.radiovaticana.org