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The Vatican and Truly Inclusive Language: Maps in Braille in Rome’s Churches and Videos for the Deaf

The objective of the protocol of agreement — signed on April 11 by the Deputy Manager of the diocese of Rome, Monsignor Baldo Reina, for the Vicariate of Rome, and by the Head of the Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Viminale, Valerio Valenti, as well as by the Archaeology Fine Arts Landscape (A.F.A.L.) Superintendence and the Archaeological Park of Appia Antica –, is to enable access of deaf and blind people to some churches in Rome’s historical center.

Thanks to this agreement — stemming from the impulse of the Apostolic Movement of the Blind — itineraries of faith and art will be created so that places of worship are effectively accessible to the sensory disabled. Specifically in churches, object of the interventions, illustrative panels will be placed with descriptions in braille, maps in high relief and QR codes that refer to contributions in video and audio. There will also be videos, each one of 5-15 minutes duration, with historical, artistic and cultural contents set in a spiritual context, with a translation of Italian signs and subtitles for the deaf. The videos will be made by the diocesan Office of University Pastoral Care and the diocesan Office of Leisure Pastoral Care, Tourism and Sport, and broadcast on the Romartecultura YouTube channel, property of the two Vatican offices. These brief documentaries are sponsored by the Pastoral Commission for the 2025 Jubilee, given that the work in these churches is also being planned in face of the forthcoming Holy Year.

Already on billboards since the morning of April 21is the documentary dedicated to “Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Helen and Constantine from Myth to History,” of 22 minutes duration, tells the history of Helen’s Basilica. Two shorter videos will be extracted from it, which will be translated into the LIS language [ a visual gestural language] and will be presented together with the touch pads in an event scheduled for next fall.

The other churches covered by the Agreement, all of them property of the Religious Buildings Fund of the Ministry of the Interior, are: Santissimo Nome di Gesù all’Argentina, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Santa Maria in Ara Coeli on the Capitoline Hill, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, Santa Prassede on the Esquiline Hill, Santa Maria in Trivio, Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio and Santa Maria del Popolo. 

Last November 2022, tactile maps were also installed in the church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, as the Director recalls of the Pastoral Care of Leisure, Tourism and Sport, Father Francesco Indelicato. “After what occurred in Saint Ignatius, which witnessed the birth of collaboration between the Vicariate of Rome and the Ministry of the Interior, we are happy to be able to present this new documentary on one of the most visited Basilicas of the diocese. It is a passionate history and perhaps also unknown to many Romans, which narrates the close link that unites the Capital of Catholicism to the Holy City of Jerusalem. An initiative that at last will enable the deaf and blind to understand better the beauty of this place, “ stressed the Director. 

Now it’s  the turn of Santa Croce, also known as Helena’s Basilica. “Helena, Constantine’s mother, can be considered the first woman archaeologist of history. She was the one who wanted Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to be the place to which earth would be transported from the excavations of the Holy Sepulcher, who did the excavations to show the interest of the new Emperor for Christianity in the East,” explained Monsignor Andrea Lonardo, Director of the Office of University Pastoral Care of the diocese of Rome. Helena was an attendant in a Post Office that Constantius Chlorus passed by chance and fell in love with her. When her son Constantine became Emperor, he named her Augusta, as attested by inscriptions found in Santa Croce itself.”

Taking part in the documentary, made by the two offices of the diocese of Rome, are Monsignor Lonardo, Caterina Papi, Professor of Christian Archaeology at the Antonianum Pontifical University, and Umberto Utro, Conservator of the Department of Christian Antiquities of the Vatican Museums. In addition, the actors Roberta Azzarone, Ciro Borrelli and Giorgio Sales interpret texts freely adapted by Francesco d’Alfonso, of the diocesan Office of University Pastoral Care, who also directs the documentary. The “Crux fidelis” piece of Domenico Bartolucci is interpreted by the vocal ensemble made up of Giovanna Gallelli Enrico Torre, Stefano Guadagnini, Patrizio La Placa, Federico Benetti and Giulia Manzini.