Praying with your smartphone: a virtual revolution?

Click on “play”, close your eyes and let yourself be prayed… In Lent 2022, mobile app of the magazine Pray in Church (edited, as The cross, by Bayard) announced its complete overhaul after fifteen years of existence: from a simple support for liturgical texts, it is now intended to be an aid to prayer. A significant turning point in the new role claimed by Catholic tech players in France. For several years, prayer applications have relied on audio and interactivity to support their users on a daily basis.

“We pick people up where they are. However, today, they are behind their screens”, observes Julien Bischoff, director of pray today. This discourse is far from new. According to Kelber Pereira Gonçalves, communication researcher at the University of Tours, its application to new technologies either: “The real turning point took place in 1963 with the promulgation by Paul VI of the decree Inter mirifica. »

Thus, when Benedict XVI declared in 2009 that we must “to evangelize the “digital continent””or that, five years later, Pope Francis describes the Internet as ” gift of God “it is, according to the researcher, always the same discourse, updated according to innovations: “We must appropriate the new communication technologies, considered as marvels whereas previously the Church saw them with a fearful and critical eye. »

Connected grandparents

Would you like to learn to pray with texts or exchange prayer intentions? Discovering Ignatian spirituality or singing with the Emmanuel community? Whether they are aimed at all Christians or target a specific community, the applications, boosted by the confinements, find their audience: “tens of thousands of users per day” claimed by the Jesuit pray on the way and the charismatic Pray today, at “1.2 million people active over twelve months” on Hozanaone of the pioneers in France when it was launched in 2016.

Busy young workers, who pray during the journey home-work or do the dishes with a commentary on the Gospel in their ears? “We were aiming active executives with a hectic life, confesses Augustin Jauffret, “product manager” of YouPray. In fact, 60% of our users are over 50, many are grandparents. » Other developers share this finding: application users are not significantly younger than the average practicing Catholic, 43% of whom were over 65 in 2010, according to Ifop.

An audience of practitioners

In fact, most users seem accustomed to praying. Although the Pray Today application is intended as an evangelistic tool, addressed to the “public furthest from the Church”its director Julien Bischoff admits that “the majority of those who subscribe are probably already practicing”. On Prie en chemin, a noticeable drop in activity on Sundays indicates that the application is often complementary to the mass, for an audience that wants to take communion..

Thomas Delenda, on the initiative of the “prayer chains” d’Hozana, nevertheless emphasizes that an application makes prayer and the experience of the Christian community accessible to people who cannot go to mass. “We respond to the loneliness of a 60-year-old lady in the countryside, who has no church nearby or cannot climb the steps”, he summarizes. “And we allow people to pray who do not understand the interest of the Mass, or who cannot take communion”, completes Karem Bustica, editor-in-chief of Pray in Church.

New out of old

However, she defends herself from offering only a substitute for the Mass and insists on the educational dimension of its application, which makes it possible to enrich her knowledge of the Gospel and to deepen her faith. And to reconnect with forgotten ways of praying: “Many people have never been trained to pray with texts. That’s what we teach them. »

Sometimes it’s the more traditional elements of apps that appeal to their users. “What works very well is popular devotion, notes Thomas Delenda. The novenas of prayer, the great saints… Things that have existed since the dawn of time. »

The developer added a stone to its “digital cathedral” with the Rosario application, version 2.0 of an ancient practice, the Living Rosary inspired by Pauline Jaricot. “We transform the objects of piety over the course of technological developments”, comments Kelber Pereira Gonçalves, struck by a certain continuity with the eRosary, a connected rosary on the model of the smart watch, launched by the Vatican in 2019. “The form changes, the content remains. »

Praying with your smartphone: a virtual revolution?