St. John Lateran, Virtually

(photo: CNS PHOTO)

Ever wanted to visit the Basilica of St. John Lateran but just never could get to Rome?

Now you can, thanks to a breathtaking virtual tour created by Villanova University in Pennsylvania. The tour also includes the baptistry and cloister.

Click here to see for yourself.

As the cathedral of the bishop of Rome (the pope), containing the cathedra Romana (papal chair), St. John Lateran, dedicated by Pope Sylvester I in 324, ranks above all other Catholic churches in the world, even above St. Peter’s Basilica.

The tour has gone online just as representatives from Facebook, Google-YouTube and Wikimedia attend a Vatican conference on “The Culture of the Internet and the Communication of the Church.”

Held by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the three-day meeting will bring together media representatives from bishops’ conferences from all over Europe.

Speaking to Italian television, the council’s president, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, said the Internet “is an excellent means of communication” and that the Church is seeking “to be present where the people are, especially the youth.”

And although Pope Benedict XVI prefers to write by hand and send traditional letters, Archbishop Celli said he does use the Internet and e-mail.

“He sends his own personal e-mails — he does!” the archbishop said. “He doesn’t have a dedicated e-mail address,” he added, “but he very much appreciates the new technologies.”

All the messages to and from the Pope, the archbishop said, go through the Vatican.

Archbishop Celli said the Pope receives “very many” messages. “Of course, he cannot reply to all the millions he receives in his mailbox, but he certainly offers his prayers to those who write.”

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