Sunday, November 23, 2008

Phone heaven in the Vatican

I read this in a hotel in Japan. It was a copy of Los Angeles Times, specially produced in co-operation with the Yomiuri Shimbun 讀賣新聞. The article was written by Sebastian Rotella in Vatican City in Rome. When I was back in Hong Kong, I read it again at the Los Angeles Times website. For news, the world is flat.

The article revealed that the technology of the early 21st century has produced a phenomenon known as "phone hell": an audio inferno where callers are tormented either by mechanized voices or human ones with less soul than the machines. We experience much of such hell in Hong Kong with so many IVRS systems. Whenever you call a bank, phone company, many other companies, or government departments, very often we hear mechanized voices, or the voice of a receptionist repeating answers hundreds of times a day. More often, although we call local, the phone is answered by someone in Guangzhou, or India, or Malaysia.

Within the audio inferno, The reporter discovered a phone heaven in the Vatican, whose switchboard is manned by no one other than the nuns of the order of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master. If you are interested in the full description of this heaven, please read the full article.

Many calls to the Vatican are routine inquiries about papal activities, hotels, or museums. That information is available in a recorded message as well. But Vatican has also preserved an oasis in the often harsh subculture of switchboards. For 50 years, the nuns have operated the Vatican switchboard. They are the gatekeepers of the Holy See. The sisters field half a million calls a year from all over the world. They assist the friendly, the loud, or the troubled negotiate a labyrinthine of the Roman Catholic Church bureaucracy. The Vatican has accepted modernization; the sisters will get some state-of-the-art assistance soon. But the sisters are determined that the human touch of the Vatican switchboard will never change. There are ten nuns from locales as diverse as India and Poland. Their average age is close to 60.

At least once a day, the switchboard receive phone call from someone insisting on speaking directly with the Pope himself. The sisters respond with tact and never say no. They try to see if a priest, the press room or a church official can help. However, sometimes the caller will not be satisfied with even a bishop.

The sisters also remember a frequent caller who identifies himself as Saint John the Baptist. This caller asks to be addressed as Saint John and prays with the nuns. Also, quite a number of people call and say they need an exorcist. It seems exorcism is a very important issue of the Catholic faith.

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