Bishops seek saint for Internet
Hopeless clickers urge Vatican to name protector
By Jeordan Legon
(CNN) -- Fed up with hackers, a flood of spam and lousy connections, Italian Roman Catholics have launched a search for a patron saint of the Internet. And they hope their online poll will yield a holy Web protector by Easter.
Will it be Archangel Gabriel, whom the Bible credits with bringing Mary the news that she'd give birth to Jesus? Or Saint Isadore of Seville, who wrote the world's first encyclopedia? Or perhaps Saint Clare of Assisi, a nun believed to have seen visions on a wall?
So far, about 5,000 visitors are casting their votes daily on www.santiebeati.it, something that delights Monsignor James P. Moroney, an expert on prayer and worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"Everyone needs patrons in the Kingdom of Heaven, and perhaps the Internet as a very young child needs the interventions of a saint all the more," he said.
Hundreds of years of tradition behind search
Once the votes are collected, the top six choices, along with all of the names of those nominated, will be delivered to the Vatican's Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the site's creator Francesco Diani said.
The Vatican, however, is keeping mum on whether it will indeed take up the idea of assigning a saint to the Internet.
But the site is following hundreds of years of tradition during which Catholics have chosen saintly protectors for their towns, churches and even themselves. Along the way, popes have taken over the process of naming saints and assigning them official patronages. But public opinion has always remained an important influence, which is why the Web poll is so appropriate, said Diani, an Internet expert for Italy's Conference of Bishops. The bishops have joined with several other Catholic groups to run the Internet saint campaign, Diani said.
"This kind of vote allows us the possibility of collecting a very large number of preferences," he said. "It's a plebiscite."
Search proves complex
But choosing just the right candidate can be confusing. For one, the site is only in Italian, which is tilting the voting heavily toward saints from that country. And some of those nominated, such as Giacomo Alberione, the priest who founded a leading Catholic publishing house, haven't been named saints by the Vatican.
But finding a viable candidate shouldn't be difficult among the thousands of saints – at least 465 more, thanks to Pope John Paul II, who has canonized more people during his quarter century in power than were named in the 400 years before him.
More saints means more causes get patrons. Three years ago, politicians got Saint Thomas More, a 16th century judge and English chancellor, as their patron. And recently the Vatican assigned motorcyclists to Saint Columbanus, a medieval Irish traveling monk.
"We like to have somebody we might pray to," said Penelope Fletcher, deputy director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington D.C. "There are people who want to have a saint for everything. ... People come up with a cause and they will assign someone to it."
Saints inspire devotion
The center's interactive saint exhibit, which lists more than 1,500 names and biographies, is one of the top tourist draws, Fletcher said. So it doesn't surprise her people are in search of a patron saint for the Net.
"It's faith and culture coming together," she said.
Besides Assisi, Gabriel and Alberione, others who are leading the voting include: Saint John Bosco, a Italian priest who promoted children's learning in the 1800s; Maximilian Kolbe, a 20th century Polish priest who started a radio station and planned to build a film studio to spread the Gospel; and Saint Alphonsus Liguori, an 18th century prodigious letter writer and author.
Whether the Vatican will heed the results of the Web poll is not clear. Their press office had no official comment on the matter.
"We know that names have been discussed here and there, but as far as we know there's nothing official going on," a press officer said.
CNN's Christian Cascone and Andrea Facini contributed to this report.