The voices of popes from as long ago as 1884 can now be heard following the digitising of 8000 tapes from the Vatican Radio’s pontifical archives.
The initiative is part of preparations for the sainting of John Paul II and John XXIII (1958-63) on April 17, the first double papal canonisation ceremony in Church history.
“This way, the popes remain among us thanks to their voices,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists on Tuesday.
Radio Vatican has been storing up the unique patrimony since it was set up under Pope Pius XI in 1931 but also holds older recordings such as Leo XIII’s Humanum Genus encyclical, which the pontiff recorded on a dictaphone in 1884.
Some of the clips in the online collection capture historic moments, such as Pius XII’s speech in August 1939 calling for restraint on the eve of the Second World War, saying “The danger is imminent but there is still time. Nothing is lost with peace, all can be lost with war!”
People can also listen to John XXIII’s impromptu 1962 “Speech to the Moon” in St Peter’s Square, where he spoke in answer to requests from a huge crowd and told them: “When you head home, find your children. Hug and kiss your children and tell them ‘This is the hug and kiss of the Pope'”.
Latin boffs can also revel in the same pontiff’s dramatic Second Vatican Council speech in 1962, in which he rejected the “prophets of doom” who forecast the Church’s decline and called on the council “to use the medicine of mercy rather than the weapons of severity” in their reforms.
Other highlights include Paul VI’s anguished words following the kidnapping and murder of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro in May 1978, culminating in his public address to God: “You did not grant our plea for the safety of Aldo Moro, of this good and gentle man … who was my friend.”
John Paul II’s emotionally-charged attack in 1993 on the mafia’s “culture of death” following a spate of high-profile killings can be listened to again, as can Benedict XVI’s 2013 resignation speech, where he said he “will simply be a pilgrim starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth”.
John Paul I, who lived for just 33 days, can be heard at one of the few Angelus prayers he led describing the terror he felt as he realised the conclave of cardinals had decided to elect him as pope.