In keeping with the universal Church the site offers universal languages, promoting six different languages - English, Italian, Spanish, French, Polish and German. However, often times it is only available in English and Italian. Sorry, no Latin! In addition, many recent features are available only in Italian so it isn't updated as soon as most would prefer.
The site has been on-line for two years now and received a major renovation a year and a half ago when the Monks of the Desert in New Mexico, who specialize in web design, were asked to overhaul the Vatican site pages. They came up with a subdued parchment look with the photos and logos blending into the pages that gives a clean, uncluttered look to it. Especially handy is the file folder-style tabs at the top which allows the browser to look through six categories: the Popes (which include John Paul II, John Paul I, Pope Paul VI, and John XXIII and their major works plus biographies and histories of these four pontiffs); the Roman Curia (which categorizes the various Congregations and their background); Jubilee 2000 (which is a basic sketch of the preparations for the millennium and doesn't offer as much as many other sites on the activities and purpose of Jubilee 2000); Archives (which delves into past documents and current ones, but, like Jubilee 2000, doesn't offer the variety or quantity that other sites we will feature in future issues do); Vatican Museums (which are all text and only feature the artists and pales in comparison to such sites as Christus Rex or EWTN in this area); and News Service. This last one is probably the best feature of the Vatican City site because it furnishes up-to-yesterday's activities of the Pope including his audiences and appointments. They have a special Vatican Information Service bureau that charges $400. a year for subscription to this service and that is quite expensive for the normal browser. Probably the biggest breakthrough is that they offer highlights of the English version of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano on-line and it can be downloaded in pdf. file if the browser has room. Presently the October 29th edition is on-line so it is timely. This is a big bonus rather than waiting a week or more for the printed edition to arrive each week...not to mention costs!!! There is no e-mail posted for the Pope, but you can e-mail the editor of L'Osservatore Romano at firstname.lastname@example.org. We doubt, however, that it will get to his holiness. That is the only e-mail for the site. When the site was first introduced they offered an e-mail address to send Christmas wishes to Pope John Paul II, but that was disconnected in early 1996.
On the minus side, it takes a while to download the site considering it has so few photos and very little color. While the background is subdued and fits with the historic image of the Holy See, the logos and graphics embossed on it take considerable time to appear. There are also times the back button will not work and you have to back your way out by reversing your steps. For being the high-profile official web site for the Holy See, it is disappointing compared to so many other Roman Catholic web sites who provide so much more. Therefore, on a scale of one to ten Hail Mary's, we're giving www.vatican.va Five Hail Mary's.