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Pope a champion of new technology

By Tammy Oaks for CNN

• Vatican turns to e-mail to announce pope's death

VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II will be remembered as a great communicator not only for his language skills, but also for his use of modern technologies to reach his followers.

John Paul is credited with bringing the Vatican into the Information Age. He used the Vatican's official Web site, launched in 1995, to publish his sermons and speeches.

In a speech on World Communications Day in 2002, John Paul said: "For the church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message."

"Therefore ... I dare to summon the whole church bravely to cross this new threshold."

Following the death of the pontiff, the Vatican did not disappoint. Word that the pope had died was first reported via SMS message from the Vatican to journalists. An e-mail was then sent to provide follow-up information.

The pope, who was famously photographed typing on his laptop computer, had his own e-mail account, and supporters were encouraged to e-mail messages of comfort to him during his last weeks.

Text messaging had also become an instrumental tool for the pope to get his message out. In 2004, the Vatican brokered a deal with Verizon to deliver daily papal SMS messages to subscribers.

The Civil Protection in Rome followed suit and used text messages to provide up-to-the-minute information to Italians in the days following the pope's death.

The first message provided information on how to best reach St. Peter's Square for those who wished to pay their last respects. The second message informed readers not to come to the city center as they would not be able to view the pope.

Many of the pilgrims and Italians who did reach the basilica used mobile phone cameras to capture final images of John Paul, sparking some to question whether the use of modern technology was disrespectful.

Vatican officials, however, did not try to stop the use of mobile cameras, perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the media-savvy pontificate.

Some 27 viewing screens were installed in and around Rome for citizens and pilgrims to watch the event as it was beamed live. And Internet users were also able to watch the funeral online as it was streamed live on many sites.

During his 26-year reign, the pope used various technologies to help him stay in touch with the world's one billion Catholics. His funeral would prove no different, with advances in technology allowing the ceremony to be witnessed by billions.

The procession -- a mix of ancient tradition and modern technology -- was very fitting for the pontiff.

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