At the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in New Jersey, there is an ongoing conversation around technology, life and religion. Sister Mary Catharine hears a lot about it, especially from the young women who join the fold.
“I think the biggest change has been smartphones because most of us don’t need them and we don’t live on them,” she said. “Meanwhile, the rest of the world is doing it.”
But even these younger, more smartphone-enabled sisters have been intrigued by the Vatican’s latest effort to get people involved: a rosary that can be paired with a smartphone to track everything from prayers offered to steps taken.
Sister Mary Catharine said she and the younger sisters had a similar reaction: “Why would anyone want to use something like that?”
In October, the Vatican introduced the “Click to Pray eRosary” smart device, a combination of a typical rosary and a Fitbit that we can wear around the wrist. Within the beads and the black cross are sensors capable of detecting rotational movements, which can be paired with an app on a smartphone to track a variety of statistics, both religious and secular.
Members of the Catholic Church who spoke to NBC News offered mixed reactions to the device, acknowledging that although it was not the most traditional offering, it offered a new way for people to connect with God.
David Spesia, executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Evangelism and Catechesis, said there is a possible downside with this kind of “gamification” of prayer, but that it can also provide people with this built-in responsibility. .
“If the goal remains to help them pray the Rosary and reflect on the life of Jesus through Mary’s eyes, right away,” Spesia said.
Although prayer and spirituality are not usually associated with the distracting material world of technology, religious leaders have used it for nearly a century to connect with more worshippers. “If this machine was the work of the devil, how could it carry the words of the Koran? Idn Saud, founder of modern Saudi Arabia said in 1925 as he read a passage from the Quran into a microphone to advocate for telegraphy and telephony in the country.
Over the past few decades, religious texts and guided prayers have been made available through online services, apps, and digital archives. The Vatican has offered its own entries, including one denominational app, as good as an application centered on the pope.
Father James Martin, editor of America magazine, a Jesuit publication, which is writing a book on prayer, said the rosary is the most popular physical object in the Catholic Church to accompany prayer, making it makes a predictable candidate. for a portable device. He said an eRosary is a natural next step in modernizing prayer given all of today’s prayer apps and podcasts, as well as the fact that many people are spending more and more time on our smartphones.
“It’s basically going to where the people are, which Jesus did. Jesus went to where the people were,” Martin said. “For a younger generation, they don’t have that blockage, they’re perfectly comfortable living online, and if they live online, that’s where the church can find them.”
Finding people is a relatively new challenge for the Catholic Church. Sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and others scandals among Catholic leaders and a sharp drop in church attendance eroded the church’s once important place in the American religious and social fabric. Polling firm Gallup found in April that although church membership in the United States has largely declined, the decline among Catholics exceeded Protestants.
Martin and Sister Mary Catharine referred to the price of the device – €99 or around $110 – and the fact that you also need a smartphone to access all of eRosary’s features, as potentially disenfranchising for a large part of the population.
So far, the eRosary doesn’t seem particularly popular. Its app has been downloaded around 17,000 times since its launch, mostly in Italy and Portugal, according to data from app tracking firm Apptopia.
“One of the things that the Holy Father and the church in general are really trying to push for is greater simplicity and less materialism and more sensitivity to the poor, the struggling people,” Sister Mary Catharine said. “But then you turn around and say to a kid who’s got a ton of debt, ‘Hey, spend $110 on this thing. “”
Martin said it’s important to keep in mind when developing these types of smart prayer products that they don’t exclude the poor, and that those who pray the old-fashioned way, with a physical set of analog rosaries, ‘don’ I don’t feel left out or feel like they aren’t as holy.
The general sentiment on the eRosary was that, in concept, using technology to connect with more people at a time when the world is increasingly online isn’t inherently bad.
“Anything that can bring a person closer to God is precious in my opinion,” Martin said.