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Vatican’s new digital tool will teach about papal basilicas

St. Peter's Basilica, in Rome

TTstudio | Shutterstock

V. M. Traverso - published on 03/24/24

The portal includes podcast episodes to explore the spiritual significance of Rome’s four papal basilicas, to turn users “From Tourists to Pilgrims.”

As you probably know, Italy counts six papal basilicas, the highest-ranking churches of Catholicism. Each of these basilicas has special features, like an exclusive altar where Mass can be celebrated only by the pope or another very high-ranking minister. Two of these basilicas are found in Assisi, while the remaining four — St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran — are in Rome. 

Now, a new digital portal born out of the collaboration between the four papal basilicas and the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication will allow Catholics from any corner of the world to explore the history of these pillars of Catholic heritage online

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of Rome’s four papal basilicas.

As explained in a press release, the portal, called “From Tourists to Pilgrims,” was created to accompany the faithful on a journey to discover their identity as “pilgrims” rather than just “tourists.” It was developed after the experience of 16 young communications professionals affiliated with the Dicastery for Communication, who explored the basilicas and were left impressed by their visits. 

“We were touched when we visited the basilicas,” the 16 Gen-Zers, coming from 10 different countries, said. “We want visitors to live the same experience but in the digital world.”

The multilingual portal includes podcast episodes, prayers centered on saints associated with the basilicas, and a virtual “table” where the lives of saints and artists who left a mark on these churches are showcased. In each podcast episode, lasting for about three minutes, art history experts and restorers as well as religious men and women explore the significance of the basilicas for the Catholic faith. 

“What may only seem like a city square to a tourist becomes a step, a journey, a divine symbol if viewed through the eyes of a pilgrim,” the creators explained. “These brief visits are designed to highlight the hidden beauty of Rome, revealed through the lens of pilgrimage.”

Michaelangelo's Pieta
Each podcast episode published on the portal “From Tourists to Pilgrims” explores the significance of a basilica for Catholic faith.

In the episode about Michelangelo’s Pietà, a tour guide explains how this masterpiece attracts people from all over the world to St. Peter’s Basilica, where they marvel at the compassion, beauty and maternal love embodied in the sculpture. We learn that Michelangelo made the Pietà from one single block of marble when he was not even 23 years old and that Mary has a mark on her body where the artist signed his name.  

Intended as an interactive tool, the portal also invites visitors to leave their testimonies about the basilicas using the hashtag #FromTouristToPilgrim. 

“In view of the journey that will lead us to the 2025 Jubilee, the hope is that this experience will encourage a revival of the storytelling surrounding the millennia-old Ad Limina Apostolorum (‘the threshold of the apostles’) tradition of pilgrimage,” the Vatican said.

ArtChurch HistoryRomeTechnologyVatican
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