Vatican visitors’ passes go electronic

Huge crowds and the reality of living in the post-9/11 world have led the Vatican to take several steps over the years to increase security for the pope and for all who work within the Vatican walls.

The latest step is an electronic one: Visitors seeking access to the 109-acre state through the St. Anne Gate, the principal business entrance to the Vatican, now have their names registered on a computer and are given a visitor’s pass with a magnetic strip on the back.

By waving the card in front of a scanner, a little gate opens and the pass-bearer enters into Vatican City State. At the same time, a little signal is sent to the computer, registering the time. When the pass is returned, the computer logs the time again.

One type of pass is good only for access to the Vatican pharmacy and is given only if the person presents a prescription from a doctor.

The other pass is used for people who have an appointment at any other Vatican office, but it is accompanied by the same square slip of paper the Vatican used for passes before it entered the electronic age. The paper says precisely which office the guest is allowed to visit.

Vatican police officers and — once you approach the Apostolic Palace — Swiss Guards stationed throughout Vatican City ask to see the paper pass to ensure the visitor gets directly to the right office. Arriving very early, then taking a wander through the Vatican gardens is frowned upon, especially on sunny afternoons when Pope Benedict XVI may be out taking a stroll.

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