The Enemy of Railways

I was surprised when I read about the meeting between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Pope Francis at the Vatican a few weeks ago. Even if we don’t know much about the real nature of the encounter, one thing is for sure: the Vatican must be undergoing a profound transformation, particularly for what concerns communication. Actually, everything started on 12 December, 2012 at 11.30 a.m. precisely, when @Pontifex, Pope Ratzinger in person, tweeted: “ Dear friends, I’m pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”  And it was generous indeed, as a million of followers, who had eagerly waited for this tweet for days, retweeted it in few secs. The following Wednesday, twitter was used again to respond to some of the thousands questions that had been addressed the Pope through #askpontifex. Pretty amazing for a Pontiff, who had often been regarded as reactionary, especially if compared to his predecessor, John Paul II.

popeHowever, he had paved the way towards modernity and Pope Francis, who has certainly a natural talent for communication, followed and improved his example. He uses Google Hangouts to chat with children from around the world, and Twitter to share snippets of his preachings and comment on global news events and controversies . But Pope Francis is far from being tech-savvy. When one child asked if he liked to take pictures and put them on his computer, the Pope replied, “Can I be honest? I am really not so good at it…I don’t know how to work with a computer. It’s a bit of a shame.” Never mind, somebody helps him for sure. Going back to the meeting, I was really impressed by some words the Pope used to comment the event: “Technology cannot determine whether communication is authentic or not , but the heart of man and his ability to make good use of the means at his disposal(……)it has led to a widening of horizons for many people. This is a gift of God, and also a great responsibility”. Hence, the Internet is a gift of God, as the Pontiff had already stated during one of his Google Hangout sessions last year  .

popeAt this point, I think we are not too blasphemous, if we say that railways were ,somehow, the nineteenth century equivalent of the Internet. The world became smaller and faster thanks to the making of those iron nets, as not only goods but also information was more easily accessible to a larger number of people. Did the Vatican “welcome” the new technological discoveries of the time with the same reformed enthusiasm of modern Popes? Were railways “gifts of God” as well? You may judge yourself from Pope Gregory XVI’s words, who “gently” defined railways as “weapons of the devil“. Gregory XVI (1831-1846) understood well the danger of those new means of communication as they not only accelerated the circulation of news, but also revolutionary ideas, that’s why he never consented them to be built in the Papal States. In the encyclical “Mirari Vos”, Gregory XVI firmly opposed to all the innovations of the time which he regarded as ” the triumph of a cynical wickedness, shameless science and unlimited laxity“. In the same encyclical he also condemned the freedom of conscience, press and thought and railways were, for sure, the means that could have spread those “viruses” in the Papal States, thus undermining the stability of his fortress.Therefore, we may say,  that almost after a couple of centuries  the Vatican seems to have finally learnt to cope with “the devil” pretty well. 😉



21 thoughts on “The Enemy of Railways

  1. Interesting. On a tangential, non-pope related tidbit – I read a book called “The Victorian Internet” It was about telegraph. Very cool all of the parallels between the modern Internet and the path that telegraph blazed before it. I wonder what the 19th century popes thought of the telegraph if they thought railroads were created by the devil?

  2. Well, my Mom was much like the 19th century Popes when it came to the computer–she called it the “Devil Incarnate.” I tried to persuade her that it is a tool—the devil lies within the user and the choices the user makes. Isn’t that like that with all inventions–can be used for good or evil–the choice is ours. Interesting article!

    • You are right and this is the Pope Francis’ s “compromise” with technology as well : the evil resides in the user and not in the intrument, and this is how he put an end to the question. Love your Mom. Cheers. Stefy. 🙋

  3. Like the relevant juxtaposition of internet vs railways. And I was warmed to learn of the Pontiff’s acknowledging “…but the heart of a man and his ability to make good use…” Very Francis-like. In addition to appreciating the research you share, I love the photo of Francis at the Jubilee Door.

  4. If all popes were of the ilk of Pope Francis and John XXIII there would be a lot more Catholics. On top of everything, Pope Francis took the name of Francis of Assissi for his papacy. Pretty darn good, I’d say.

  5. It’s always good to remind ourselves that what we take for granted was once both innovative and, in its way, revolutionary. The printing press, mass production, the railways, efficient postal services, fast personal transport, telegraph, telephones, radio, television, the internet — all encouraged more connectivity between people and, as you point out the transmission of ideas that authority may not approve of. Plus ca change …

    • The Church of Rome has always been more like Gregory XVI than Francis. The free transmission of ideas have often been regarded dangerous, like evil. Think about the medioeval struggles for the free translation of the bible in a language different from Latin. In a more common idiom, more people might understand the scriptures and give a different interpretation from the institutional one. This resulted in a loss in power and that’s why excommunications were always behind the corner. The fact that the Chruch has learnt to ride the horse communication so well is really a signs of the times, really modern times.

  6. In my opinion, everything can be used in many ways, all depens on its aim. So, saying that internet and social networks are instruments of Satan, I guess, it is an exaggeration, beacuse they have made the world smaller and better. I conclude by saying that the church has always needed to become more modern and up to date,in order to being able to communicate and help people.

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