The Vatican has introduced a new way of keeping silence in their churches while also informing tourists – the iPod.
Today is the first full day of a trial which sees pilgrims to the basilica of St. John Lateran given the audio-guide with a special app explaining the 1,700-year history of the church, which serves as the Pope’s cathedral.
“I can easily say that in Italy there are no examples of experiences like this in religious contexts, probably not even those in museums,” Jelena Jovanovic said to CNA. Her company, Antenna International, created the handheld device.
The multi-lingual guide offers audio, video, photos and texts to give an interactive experience to pilgrims. It also provides historical re-enactments narrated by actors.
Tourists can now listen to the experience of their fellow pilgrims from centuries past or even a “first-hand” account of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, when the Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky and converted to Christianity.
But the primary purpose of the guide is not entertainment or even education - it’s prayer and silence.
Bishop Luca Brandolini, the head of Pastoral Care for the Diocese of Rome, explained to CNA that “Unfortunately, our basilicas have become more like noisy meeting places at many times.”
“We need to bring back a place and time for silence. So I think this audio-guide will help achieve that.”
The Managing Director of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican body that oversees all pilgrim activity in the Diocese of Rome, agrees.
“Those who want to enter into a basilica to pray must be able to pray. So this multimedia guide helps with that,” said Fr. Caesar Atuire.
“Everyone can now do what they have to do without disturbing others.”
There is no charge for the use of the guide, but pilgrims do have to leave a document, such as a passport, as security.
The Vatican will monitor the experiment at St. John Lateran until December. Then officials will decide whether or not to roll the scheme out to other basilicas and churches in the Diocese of Rome.