A week before Pope Francis arrives in the United States for his first visit since becoming Pope, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a new app for smartphones and tablets, for both Android and Apple devices. The Catholic Church Mobile App aims to provide details to users about the Pope's visit, as well as other information about the Catholic faith.
"My initial impression is this thing's great," said Burlington, Vermont restaurant owner Earl Handy, a Catholic. "I think it's bringing the Catholic Church into the new millennium; into the new generation."
The app promises to stream video, both live and on-demand, of the Pope's stops in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. It also says it will provide lots of other content, both text and video, in English and Spanish.
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"I probably won't be able to attend the Papal visits," Handy said. "But now that I know about this [app], if I have a chance to click on and see it, absolutely. I want to see it."
The Catholic Church in the United States has long grappled with declining attendance at Mass. It is also still healing from clergy sex abuse cases that rattled many people's trust.
Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has said he hopes the Pope's arrival in the U.S. will be a time for the church to reintroduce itself as a joyful place, and to re-energize the faith for more than 75-million American Catholics.
"The Catholic Church has always used the present means of communication to further the mission of the church right from the very beginning," Coyne said of the new smartphone and tablet app. "We've never had a problem with the communication tools themselves--they're morally neutral--it's what you do with them. So any of the tools we can use today that allow us to communicate with people both inside and outside the church, we're going to be there."
The app is free to download from Google Play and Apple's App Store. It also will provide daily scripture readings and has a feature to help users find a parish near them, Coyne noted.
"The way I look at the digital media is, we have to be there," Coyne explained. "More and more people are checking out of television, radio, and checking into the digital culture. Some young people today don't even like to leave a voice mail or talk on the phone any more. They prefer to send a text message. So we have to be where they are with tools like this."