VATICAN CITY — Vatican Radio presented its digital archive of “The Voice of the Popes,” a collection of more than 8,000 audio recordings of every pope since Pius XI, which makes their messages more easily accessible.

“This is moving; this initiative of Vatican Radio has made me very happy that we can listen to their discourses,” said Cardinal Giovanni Re, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops, in an interview with CNA following the April 1 presentation.

“It’s beautiful that these popes remain among us with their voices, though the most important thing is that they are in our hearts.”

Guido Gusso, butler to Blessed John XXIII; Gianfranco Svidercoschi, Vatican observer; Sandro Piervenanzi, technical director of Vatican Radio; and Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See press officer; also participated in the announcement.

“Our oldest recording was made on a Dictaphone and dates to 1884,” Piervenanzi said. “It is a recording of Leo XIII and was not made by Vatican Radio, but was a gift from Catholics in America.”

Leo XIII is heard reading his encyclical Humanum Genus (On Freemasonry). Piervenanzi discussed the recording, made on a wax cylinder, in the context of the challenges facing Vatican Radio in digitizing such recordings.

Vatican Radio was founded in 1931 and establishes, protects and manages the archive of papal pronouncements so as to safeguard them and to protect the Holy See’s intellectual property.

The digitization allows a more widespread diffusion of the popes’ speeches; prior to this, few people but employees of Vatican Radio were able to hear all the recordings. The archives are open to the public in a limited way, but can be accessed for historical publications or as the object of study.

The archive has documented more than 23,000 events, and the digital archive is formed of more than 37,000 files. That the archive might be published in the future on the Internet has not been ruled out.

Father Lombardi emphasized the importance of the archive, noting in particular Blessed John XXIII’s “speech to the moon,” an impromptu discourse from the balcony of the apostolic palace to crowds in St. Peter’s Square on the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

“When the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council was celebrated, journalists searched for its transcription on the Vatican website, but could find only L’Osservatore Romano’s synthesis,” he said.

At the time, the pope’s words “were not customarily transcribed in their entirety.”

“We searched for the original in the Vatican Radio archives, transcribed it and published it,” he said. The full speech is now available in Italian, Latin, Portuguese and Spanish on the Vatican’s website.

Father Lombardi also praised the work of Italian journalist Angela Ambrogetti, who has published two works — Companions in Travel and In the Air With Pope Benedict — with Libreria Editrice Vaticana on the news conferences held by Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI during their international flights, for which she used the Vatican Radio archives.

The press officer announced that Ambrogetti is now working on a third work utilizing the archives — this time on Blessed John Paul II’s conversations at lunch.

In 2011, when Companions in Travel was published, transcriptions of Blessed John Paul II’s conferences on his flights were not provided.

“I wanted to render the atmosphere of that era,” Ambrogetti said March 31.

Cardinal Roberto Tucci, at one time a director of Vatican Radio, said of the archive: “We had a treasure, but were not even aware of it.”

The custom of new conferences held on papal flights began in 1979, with Blessed John Paul II’s trip to Mexico.

When he went to greet the journalists, Wilton Wynn of Time asked if he intended to visit the United States. The pope responded, and journalists have since been able to question the pope on his international flights.

“Wynn’s question gave rise to a new journalistic era,” Ambrogetti said.

She noted that the archives show each pope as he is: “John Paul II used to speak about human rights, social justice, the presence of the Church in the world … themes that are the natural outcome of the announcement of the Gospel, even if the outcome seemed more newsworthy than the motivation.”

Benedict XVI, she reflected, “explained once again to the world the reason why the Catholic Church speaks about human rights, peace and social justice,” even if “the media did not seem ready to address these issues.”