Lifestyle & Belief

iPray: Jesuits appeal to lapsed Catholics with new website


A Christmas nativity scene made from sand is displayed at the international beach resort of Las Canteras, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria on Dec. 9, 2010. Artist from nine countries recreated the scenes depicting the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.


Desiree Martin

MADRID, Spain — In the 16th century, Teresa of Avila said: “God can even be found among the cooking pots.” Spain’s visionary saint was telling Catholics that they could practice their faith anywhere, at any time, however humdrum. Now, Spanish Jesuits have brought her words into the digital age.

To coincide with the start of Lent they have launched a new website, “Rezando voy” — literally translated as “praying as I go” — that allows visitors to download audio files containing prayer recitations, quotes from the Bible, mellow music and spiritual reflections. Starting on Ash Wednesday, a new file is being posted every weekday on the website. Each download is about 12 minutes long.

“People often complain that they can’t find time to pray and they don’t know how to do so,” said the project’s coordinator, Jose Maria Rodriguez Olaizola. "We try to offer a solution to both these problems. People can listen to the prayers whenever they want, whether it’s when they go for a walk, in their car, on the way home, or in the kitchen. In addition, the readings of holy texts are accompanied by questions and reflections, so it’s like a script for praying.”

Twenty-eight volunteers based in the northern city of Valladolid work on the project, recording readings of prayers or Bible texts, choosing and recording music and maintaining the website.

Rezando voy is the first website of its kind in Spanish and is hoping to replicate the success of a similar site run by Jesuits in Britain called Pray-as-you-go, which receives 90,000 visits per week. Rezando voy has no concrete targets in terms of users, although it is looking beyond Spain’s borders for visitors.

“Because of the possibilities the internet offers, we want to reach not just Spaniards but all Spanish-speaking believers — and non-believers — in Latin America and also the United States, where there is a large number of Spanish speakers,” said Elena Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Jesuits in Madrid.

The Spanish Jesuits’ initiative seems to be in line with current thinking in the Vatican. In January, Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement expressing cautious support for the internet and social networks, calling on Christians to “proclaim the Gospel through the new media.”

Rezando voy’s coordinators insist they are not appealing solely to a younger audience, who might download the audio files onto an mp3 player or iPhone. They believe the accessible nature of the website — just one click on the homepage starts the day’s prayers — means older Catholics can easily use it without needing to be computer-savvy.

However, the Spanish church does apparently need to reach out to a broader, younger public. Fewer than 20 percent of Spaniards now attend mass regularly, according to the country’s CIS institute. Congregations at Sunday mass across Spain are often predominantly made up of pensioners, especially in rural areas.

And aside from the prayer download project, the Spanish church has not forsworn its reputation for stodginess. On March 1, it chose to re-elect the 74-year-old Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco as its leader. The same week he was voted in, the conservative Rouco warned young people of “the empty lifestyle” that social networks encourage.

“The establishment of the [Spanish] church believe too much in the old ways but not in the new ways,” said Juan Rubio, a priest and Catholic commentator. “We need to give the Gospel to young people and preach to them, but not in church, because they don’t go to church. We don’t need to preach in church, we need to preach on websites.”

Spain, like any other Western country, has seen the pace of life accelerate in recent years. Not only have working hours gotten longer, with less time for leisure, but the digital revolution means that people spend more time surfing the internet, sending emails, on social network sites, or downloading music and films. Never has the Catholic custom of taking a few quiet moments for oneself for prayer and contemplation been more under siege. Those organizing Rezando voy accept this new reality.

“It might seem as if, in order to pray, you need certain demanding requisites, such as being quiet for a long time, so you can dedicate yourself to silence, calming the mind and ensuring you have the right atmosphere,” said Olaizola.

He added: “Often this is difficult to achieve due to the frenetic speed of our lives, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pray. There are different ways of praying and different speeds for praying. In everyday life there are always moments when we can look beyond the things surrounding us.”

Saint Teresa could hardly have put it better.