VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - It took just minutes for the Catholic Church
to alert the world's media of John Paul's death -- using text messages
and email so the 2,000-year-old Church could meet the new demands of
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 email communique was beamed to a sea of
state-of-the-art handheld computers, purchased by journalists at the
suggestion of the Vatican.
"The Holy father died this evening at 21:37 in his private apartment,"
it said, in a simple Word document.
TV spectators across the globe 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 only informed them 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
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
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