Churches among those swept up in Pokemon Go craze

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

By Jennifer Brinker

LOUIS (CNS) — Since its release in the United States July 6, Pokemon Go has
quickly become a cultural phenomenon.

In the first week, the mobile game
attracted nearly 21 million users, according to data from Survey Monkey, making
it the most popular app in U.S. history.

As a
result, the nature of the game is driving swarms of players to unsuspecting
churches, businesses and other landmarks. But as it grows in popularity,
priests, youth groups and others are quickly finding opportunities to
evangelize to young people.

Pokemon Go uses augmented reality, a
real-world environment that incorporates computer-generated elements, such as
GPS data, sound and video. Users move around in the real world as they collect
tiny virtual creatures called Pokemon — short for pocket monsters. The mobile app is
based on the popular franchise that began with several Nintendo games in the

Churches, businesses and other landmarks
have been designated as PokeStops, where users collect resources needed to
catch Pokemon; and Gyms, where competitions are held among the creatures.

Church in south St. Louis County began noticing an influx of visitors to the property
July 11.

“On Monday night, we couldn’t figure out why all these people were
on our property,” pastor Father Thomas Keller told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. “We noticed
people walking up, or in their car slowing down. By Tuesday, we figured out we
had all these Pokemon stops. I talked to a nice couple pushing a baby carriage
who explained everything to me.”

game especially has been attractive to young adults who grew up on Pokemon in
the 1990s. Assumption’s associate pastor Father David Miloscia, 29, was into
Pokemon from the eighth grade to his sophomore year in high school. He geeked
out with a group of five teenagers who visited the parish July 14 on their
quest to catch more characters.

Miloscia sees this latest trend in mobile gaming is opportunity to connect with
others. “I talked with some kids last night when they were on the parking
lot,” he said. “They were happy the church was relating to them in
this way,” he told the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper. The next thing
is that personal interaction. For me, I just rely on the Holy Spirit to make an
opening or say the right words.”

pastors and church employees have no warning that their church has become a
Pokemon spot until the players come knocking.

Flynn, who works at the front desk at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington,
Virginia, noticed a large group of young men in their 20s hanging out in the
parking lot with their phones in the air.

daughter told me later that the chapel was listed as a Gym,” said Flynn.

A Gym
is a place where Pokemon players can come and train or do battle with other
players. Some players prefer to visit the Gyms in the late evening when fewer people
are playing. At least four vehicles were seen at St. Leo Church in Fairfax,
Virginia, around 9 p.m. one evening engaged in a battle for the Gym located in
the parish’s prayer garden.

parishes are trying to figure out how to reach out to visiting gamers, while
also standing firm about not trespassing overnight or catching Pokemon in the
church. Seminarian John Paul Heisler described a group of players who came into
Church of the Nativity in Burke, Virginia, during the 11 a.m. Mass one Sunday
in search of a Pokemon. According to Heisler, players were oblivious to the sacredness
of what was happening.

Patrick Posey, pastor of St. James Parish in Falls Church, Virginia, sent a
letter informing parishioners about the six Pokemon stops on the church
property. He welcomed players to visit the church but asked them to be
respectful. He also encouraged players to celebrate the feast day of St. James
with parishioners at their July 25 ice cream social.

once a person finds the Pokemon, they will enter the church and find Christ,”
Father Posey told the Arlington Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper. “Just to
be clear, I do not believe there is anything wrong with playing Pokemon Go.
However, I do think people are happy to search for Pokemon and reluctant to
search for Christ because he calls us to give more of ourselves.”

should the church’s response be to Pokemon Go?

According to Julianne Stanz, director
of the Department of New Evangelization, in the Diocese of Green Bay,
Wisconsin, it should be go — as in “go and make disciples of all nations.”

and members of her department created a Pokemon Go resource guide for parishes,
“A Parish Primer: Responding to Parish Questions and Concerns.”

four-page guide gives a description of Pokemon Go, a definition of key words,
the history of Pokemon and an explanation why parishes should care about the game. The guide is available at

In an
email to The Compass, Green Bay’s diocesan newspaper, Stanz said the parish guide
was created “in conjunction with a team of parish leaders skilled in
evangelization outreach who are looking at using the technology as part of
their ministry.”

She added
her department had received calls from parishes asking for information about
the game.

David L. Ricken of Green Bay supports the evangelization department’s
initiative. In fact, he first led the Pokemon Go outreach on his Twitter
account July 11. A second tweet followed on July 12.

said making parishes aware of why people are visiting their church location is
the first step in understanding and responding to the Pokemon Go phenomenon.

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is a staff writer at the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper. Contributing
to this story were Ashleigh Buyers in Arlington and Sam Lucero in Green Bay.

– – –

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