Country profile: Vatican
The Vatican is the smallest
independent state in the world and the residence of the spiritual
leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.
Its territory is
completely surrounded by the Italian capital Rome, while priests and
nuns of many nationalities make up much of the resident population.
The Vatican has been headed by Pope Benedict XVI since Pope John Paul II died in 2005 after a 26-year pontificate.
Pope John Paul II was in office at a time of tremendous upheaval in Eastern Europe, including his homeland of Poland.
Crowds gather in St Peter's Square, Vatican City
He preached dialogue and reconciliation, between former political
opponents and also between different religions. During a visit to
Israel the Pope expressed sorrow for the history of anti-Semitism
within the Catholic church.
He also sought to heal rifts with
other churches within the Christian faith. Some of these moves have
been successful, others not so.
But critics accused the Vatican's social policy of being out-of-step with modern reality.
said Pope John Paul's strict conservative teaching on issues such as
abortion and contraception - both of which he absolutely rejected -
failed a sizeable majority of Catholics worldwide. They argued that his
views disqualified the church from having any role in solutions to the
problems facing hundreds of millions of believers.
City packs imposing buildings into its small area. These include St
Peter's Basilica. Completed in the early 17th century, the domed
edifice is a pilgrimage site. The Vatican Museums and Art Galleries
house the art collections of the popes.
- Full name: State of the Vatican City
- Population: 800 (UN 2009)
- Capital: Vatican City
- Area: 0.44 sq km (0.17 sq mile)
- Major languages: Latin (official), Italian
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 74 years (men), 81 years (women)
- Monetary unit: 1 Vatican lira = 100 centesimi, 1 euro = 100 cents
- Main exports: Postage stamps, publications, tourist souvenirs
- GNI per capita: n/a
- Internet domain: .va
- International dialling code: +39
Head of state: Pope Benedict XVI
Formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI was elected pope in April 2005.
Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th pontiff
Already one of the Vatican's most powerful men, he presided over
the funeral of his predecessor Pope John Paul II and was said to be
among the late pontiff's closest friends.
Pope Benedict was
born in Bavaria in 1927 and is the oldest man to become pope in more
than 100 years. He is the first German pope since the eleventh century.
Drafted into the German armed forces during World War II, he
deserted as it drew to a close and was a prisoner of war in 1945. He
has said that the brutality of the Nazis later helped lead him to the
priesthood, and in one of his first papal addresses he condemned the
He became cardinal-archbishop of Munich in 1977, and
in 1981 the new Pope John Paul II appointed him head of the
Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
In this office, the
successor to the historical Inquisition, Cardinal Ratzinger set out his
conservative intellectual stance, including rigorously uncompromising
views on birth control, sexuality and euthanasia.
has not adapted to the public limelight as easily as his predecessor,
and a number of controversies have resulted from his uncertain handling
of the media.
His decision to readmit Richard Williamson, an
ultraconservative bishop and Holocaust denier, to the Church angered
Jews and many loyal Catholics, and his quotation of comments by a
Byzantine emperor highly critical of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad
provoked protests by Muslim clerics and public figures.
Powerful transmitters beam Vatican Radio - "The Pope's Voice" - to a
global audience. But the station has faced allegations that its
transmissions have been putting lives at risk in a Rome suburb by
exceeding Italy's electromagnetic radiation standards - claims the
- Vatican Radio - inaugurated in 1931, broadcasts in many languages