PARIS (AFP) Apr 03, 2005
Pope John Paul II was known as a gifted communicator in an electronic age and his followers are making creative use of e-mail, mobile phones and text messages to share their grief.
"The Holy Father died this evening at 21:37 in his private apartment," read the terse e-mail by the Holy See on the pope's demise Saturday.
"All the procedures foreseen by the Apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici gregis' promulgated by John Paul II on 22 February 1996 have been set in motion."
The brief missive to journalists tracking the story was preceded by an alert in the form of a text message sent to reporters' mobile phones, unleashing a chain reaction that spread the news worldwide within minutes.
Roman Catholics then turned to instant communication to link up for prayer at local churches, cathedrals or other places of worship to pay homage to the 84-year-old pontiff.
Italians had already spread a phone text message Saturday afternoon inviting people to gather in Saint Peter's Square to pray for Pope John Paul II while he was still hovering between life and death.
The idea was launched by a radio listener who called into a program on Italy's Radio 24 and urged all listeners to send messages out to their friends to come to the square.
The message quickly spread to other Italian cities: "Let's all meet in front of the cathedrals of our cities at 17:30 (1530 GMT)," it read.
Other text messages circulating urged people to pray for the pope.
"A candle at your window for the pope to illuminate his road to GOD as he has illuminated it for the world for 27 years," said one message, referring to the length of John Paul II's pontificate.
In Spain, at least 2,000 people flocked to Madrid's Plaza de Colon after the pope's passing when they received the call to prayer via their cellular phones and computers.
"When the pope dies, go to the streets to pay tribute with the tenderness and affection he deserves. In Madrid, everybody to the Plaza de Colon!" read an e-mail circulating Saturday afternoon.
In Zagreb, hundreds of mainly young Croatians used their mobile phones to pass the word of the pope's demise.
"It's over -- the pope is dead" wrote Dragan, a young engineer, to his friend Hrvoje via text message after hearing the news on an international television news channel.
"Meet at the cathedral right away," Hrvoje replied.
Foreigners in Zagreb also sent texts to communicate with friends abroad.
"Dear friend, this message is to tell you how much I share your sadness after the death of the pope. For us, he was the one who brought down communism," Cristina, an Orthodox Christian from Romania, wrote Piotr, a Polish friend living in Warsaw.
"We are devastated," Piotr beamed back.
John Paul II himself embraced electronic media, calling the Internet a "wonderful instrument," and even used his first e-mail in November 2001 to apologize to victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, according to Wired magazine.
The Vatican issued two documents in 2002 on the opportunities and risks presented by new technology and maintains an active website, www.vatican.va.
The home page featured a picture of the late pontiff early Sunday with the inscription "John Paul II 1978-2005."
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