The iBasilica of St. John Lateran

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Eucharist during Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome April 21.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Eucharist during Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome April 21. (photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The basilica of St. John Lateran, “the mother of all the churches of Rome and the world”, is leading the way in embracing new media by offering guided tours with an iPod.

With the help of sacred music, images (historical ones as well as photographs), and some vivid explanations, the tour uses the famous touch-screen device to bring a “mix” of history, culture and spirituality to a visiting pilgrim or tourist. Also included is a welcome from Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Vicar of Rome, together with detailed maps. 

The pilgrimage office of the Vicariate of Rome, L’Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, is responsible for introducing the new facility, and is offering it free to visitors for a trial period. If successful, it will be introduced in other basilicas and holy sites around Rome.  All that is required is for visitors to leave a form of ID at the counter.

Using the tailored iPod does enhance one’s visit, making the fascinating history of the basilica more immediate and easier to follow. Fr. Cesare Atuire, director general of ORP, said he saw the new device as part of the New Evangelisation. “When John Paul II launched the New Evangelization, he said it had to be new, it had to use new methods, especially in a secularized world like today” Fr. Atuire said. “In the Western world in particular, we do have problems with rationality and the methods used to transmit the Church’s teaching are no longer enough – we need to talk to people in a more holistic way, so it becomes an experience.”

Fr. Atuire, who had just returned from leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, stressed that spreading the Gospel should focus on sharing an experience, just as the first Apostles shared what they had lived. “That’s what evangelization should be about,” he said, “and not so much: “I have the true faith and I’m going to beat you round the head with it.”” 

The basilica of St. John Lateran is also known as the “Pope’s cathedral” while St. Peter’s basilica reflects the “universality of his pontificate.” A detailed description of St. John Lateran can be found here. Tomorrow, the Holy Father will celebrate Mass and lead the Eucharistic Procession from the mother of all churches on the Feast of Corpus Christi, finishing at the basilica of St. Mary Major.

The magnificent structure can also be viewed in 360 degrees on your desktop computer here.

The Church’s embrace of science and technology was also further underlined today when Benedict XVI met the director of NASA, Charles Bolden, at the end of today’s general audience. Last month, the Holy Father took part in a satellite link up with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.