HARTFORD – Pokémon Go is here, there and everywhere, likely including at your church and its parish hall and Catholic school.
Since the Pokémon Go application was released in July, parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford have begun seeing players enter their property to play the virtual game that tracks down and captures the fictional Pokémon creatures in real-life locations using a smartphone’s GPS and camera.
For some, the free game developed by Niantic Inc. has become a huge hit – its number of users surpassing even Twitter’s. For others, the possibility of becoming a real-life “hotspot” for the mobile game – such as in parks, schools and even churches – may pose a safety or security threat
USA Today reported July 26 that the game topped 75 million downloads worldwide, and is the fastest game to reach the 50-million download mark.
In response to parish inquiries, Maria Zone, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Hartford, sent a notice to pastors at the end of July noting that “some of our parishes have been designated as Pokémon locations.” She stated that three parishes reported that they do not appreciate players “coming onto their property at all hours to play the game,” while two other parishes opted to seize the opportunity to evangelize by “asking players to pray as well as play.
“Some camps are concerned about liability issues, such as if someone gets hurt on the property, or security issues, if people are coming on the property at all times of the night,” she said, “while other see it as an opportunity for evangelization.”
“We’re taking it as it comes,” said Father Joseph T. Donnelly at Sacred Heart Parish in Southbury. “We began seeing groups of cars appear on the property, so we decided, ‘Let’s use this as an opportunity to evangelize,’” he said. “It’s what Pope Francis and Jesus would do … go to where people are and evangelize them.”
He said the parish has three sites targeted as a PokéStop. The parish proactively put up three signs: next to the peace garden is the sign that reads, “While you’re here, pray for peace. Our world sorely needs it”; near the old entrance of the church is a sign, “Recharge your phone outside; recharge your soul inside” with a Mass schedule. And next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue is a sign, “Jesus loves you no matter what.”
Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Schlageter, pastor of St. Paul Parish in Kensington, spoke along the same lines.
“I welcome them,” he said. “If they’re here, I welcome them, I ask them questions and I learn; I schmooze them.
“Every opportunity is a chance to share the good news,” he said. “We’ve got to take advantage of it with no ill will.”
Father Jeffrey Gubbiotti, archdiocesan director of vocations, lives at St. Thomas Becket Parish Rectory in Cheshire. He said he has posted a sign that reads, “Stop to say a prayer” along with a copy of the Prayer of St. Francis after seeing some teens sitting on a bench.
“I can’t say I’ve seen a huge number of players,” he said. “But this phenomenon has brought people to the church who never would have come otherwise. Some are young people who we typically may not see. So we have to use it as an opportunity to spread the Gospel,” Father Gubbiotti said.
Father Ronald P. May, pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Southington, agreed. “We may not know who they are, but you have to try different ways to reach out to them. If this helps, fine. We know what they’re doing, and it doesn’t offend us in a negative way.”
For parishes that want to be removed from the application as Pokémon-sighting locations, Mrs. Zone provided the following link to an online form to submit: https://support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com/hc/en-us/requests/new?ticket_form_id=319928. She also provided signage tor those parishes to use.
For parishes that choose to take advantage of the application for evangelizing, she also offered a “Parish Primer” developed by the Department of Evangelization at the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., that explains the game and offers five tips to help with evangelization. Materials, including signs to post on parish property and news stories, are available through her office.
Information is available from Mrs. Zone at 860-541-6491.