Pokemon Go! is currently sweeping the United States and soon, the world. If you don’t know much about this game, I’ll fill you in.
Pokemon Go! is a GPS location-based game, meaning that you download the app to your phone, turn on your GPS, and walk around until a Pokemon pops up on your screen. Many are playing this game and are congregating at important landmarks called “Pokestops.” These Pokestops can be found in parks, cemeteries, statues, famous or odd landmarks and most importantly, churches. Pokestops are also not one time events either, but rather they are constant, meaning that if your church or chapel is already a Pokestop, it will continue to be so.
I know a bit about this because Pokemon Go is built off of another game made by Google called “Ingress,” in which you capture and defend these same landmarks from competing players on the opposite team. In Ingress, players on either the Blue or Green team go around and capture portals and try to defend them from the opposing team, making them stronger by linking them to other portals of the same color. Over the course of three years, Ingress players have submitted hundreds of thousands of landmarks to Ingress to add them as portals within the game.
Ingress, while prevalent in many urban areas and even suburban areas, never took off to achieve the same popularity that Pokemon Go has achieved in as little as 12 days. Everyone of all ages seems to be playing it. In fact, just going around town on my bike the other night, I must have bumped into at least two dozen people playing it, and I admit, I was too.
Is it a silly game? Yes. But it is an interesting concept, especially to those of us who played Pokemon as kids. I know I wanted to be a “real life Pokemon trainer” and go around and catch Pokemon, and now I can. It’s also amazing to see how many of my co-workers are playing and has encouraged us to spend time away from our desks for some good old fashioned camaraderie.
But going back to Pokestops, I think that we have to admit that Catholics have been given an opportunity that we haven’t had before. People are coming back to churches. No, not to pray, but to play. They stop outside the Church to visit the Pokestop and get some gear to continue playing the game. These Pokestops have a 5-minute window where the player must wait before activating it again. We need to realize that while yes, from all outside perspective we are dealing with something rather silly, but at the same time, people are no longer afraid to step near a church anymore. So what are we going to do about it?
We need to consider approaching these kids, teens, young or older adults and invite them into the Church. Protestants will take advantage of this game and invite these players to their church for worship or prayer or what have you. Heck, they may even play with them! But what are we going to do? Are we going to give them glares and tell them to get off of Church property (mind you they don’t have to be on the property, just within the 30-yard range) or are we going to give them something to fill that void? Are we going to bring them closer to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and help guide them into the Catholic Church (or back to the Church for those who have left)?
There is a very real possibility that this might be our only chance to approach them and teach them about Jesus and salvation on our steps. I can tell you that I have already seen three teenagers outside of my local Catholic Church playing. I was running late for confession, so I did not stop to chat with them, and they had left by the time I had confessed, but they sat on the steps of the Church. We shouldn’t be afraid of messing up evangelization either, as we can at the very least strike up a friendly conversation with them. Invite them to come in and pray. Invite them to Mass. Offer to show them what Catholics believe and why. Each and every person is different, and thus there is no “right” way, as what may work to bring one person into the Church might not work on another. And Jesus never said that we had to convert them, but to plant the seed.
This game has made people far more comfortable with the churches than ever before, and we better get the most out of it, because Jesus wanted us to become fishers of men, and He wants to catch them all.