Deep inside the Vatican, a white-haired nun dressed in a brown habit opens the door to a room full of computers. The whirring machines hold some of the mysteries of the Holy See, including photographs of the Vatican Secret Archives and of ancient illustrated manuscripts. No, this isn’t a movie trailer for The Da Vinci Code. Our guide is Sister Judith Zoebelein, the editorial director of the Internet Office of the Holy See. She’s showing off a small but potent Vatican data center, which bristles with servers and other high-tech gear.
It’s no secret that the Vatican has a fantastic Web site. It brims with fine art and practical information about the Catholic Church. The site, www.vatican.va, which comes in six languages, was even nominated for a prestigious Webby Award a few years back. But little is known about the woman who is behind it. Sister Judith, a 57-year-old American, grew up in a middle-class household in the Hamptons on the eastern tip of Long Island. She and a handful of colleagues were Internet pioneers when, in 1995, they launched the Vatican Web site. Since then, she has greatly expanded the site, including images of art from the Vatican Museums, a powerful search engine, and videos of restoration projects.
Now Sister Judith is creating a second Vatican Web site, set for launch in the fall, that is aimed at bringing together the faithful so they can interact. Think of it as MySpace.com (NWS ) for Catholics. There will be personal news updates, e-learning programs, and areas set aside for families, young people, and parishes. Collaboration is key, and that should differentiate the site from others in its genre. "People will be able to find each other and work together online, and then go back and use what they have learned or done in their own communities," says Sister Judith.
MySpace for Catholics is an unfortunate phrase considering all the stories recently of perverts and sexual abusers hanging out at MySpace looking for victims. That aside I wonder if at the Vatican they call the position Web Servant instead of Web Master? It will be interesting to see what Sister Judith comes up with. Though of course I have poked fun at the Vatican’s website before.