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Catholic smart phone apps, downloads add new dimension to faith life

Applications, downloads allow Catholics to pray rosary, Liturgy of hours from just about anywhere


by Dennis Poust  When Fran Rossi Szpylczyn developed complications from routine gall bladder surgery last month, the subsequent 12-day hospital stay could have been traumatic and stressful. Instead, she said, it became a moment of grace thanks to, of all things, her Motorola Droid phone and a Catholic prayer app that she had downloaded on a whim months earlier but had not often used.

“When I got to the hospital, I had my husband bring me this big pile of books, and I just could not touch one of them,” she said. “I had no concentration to open a book. My Magnificat, my Bible, Christian Prayer, my journal which I write in every day, just sat there. But I picked up my phone on the second day I was there and I opened the iBreviary software and I don’t know why, but I was just able to go there.”

The iBreviary app, created by Father Paolo Padrini, an Italian priest, is one of a growing number of Catholic related prayer aids — for smart phones like the iPhone and Droid, as well as for the iPad, the new tablet computer from Apple — that are beginning to transform the way Catholics pray and, perhaps soon, how they worship at Mass.

“It was just so comforting to me to be able to hold my little blocky Droid phone in my hand and yet be able to enter in and engage in my prayer, to let go in a way that books at that point simply did not allow me to do,” said Szpylczyn, a writer who lives in Clifton Park, N.Y.

Developers of this new prayer frontier say situations like Szpylczyn’s are exactly what their products are intended to be used for — not to replace the sacred books so associated with Catholicism, but to supplement them.

“I do not think paper books will disappear,” Father Padrini said in an e-mail interview from his home in northern Italy. “The experience of prayer, or even simply reading a paper book, cannot be replaced by that of an e-book.”

However, he added, “I don’t think there should be shock” if in the near future priests use such tools on the iPad for support during the Mass and performing other sacraments, in addition to “some faithful who use such tools to follow the liturgical functions or meditate on the Scriptures.”

Father Padrini, a consultant with the vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, made news in June with the announcement of the upcom- ing release of a new version of iBreviary for the iPad, which will include the complete Roman Missal in various languages, perhaps allowing priests to use the tablet computer during Mass in some situations, such as in remote mission areas, on cruise ships or other travel situations where books may be cumbersome.

But while its use in celebrating Mass may still be down the road, there is no question that iBreviary already has made an impact on Catholics world- wide. The free application, which contains the major prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours for the current day, the Roman Missal, including daily Mass readings and a treasury of Catholic prayers, has been downloaded more than 200,000 times for the iPhone, as well as the Android and Symbian operating systems.

While iBreviary is certainly among the most popular of the Catholic applications, or “apps,” it has a lot of company. A quick look through Apple’s App Store for the iPhone shows more than 300 Catholic- related apps, many dedicated to popular devotions like the rosary or Divine Mercy, as well as the saints, Bible verses and more.

For those who faithfully pray the Divine Office throughout the day, Universalis may be an app of choice. Although it costs more than most apps ($24.99 for the iPhone), it gives you, in effect, the entire multi-volume breviary on your phone or iPod (as well as access to the Universalis Web site, daily e-mails and more). Like other breviary apps, the prayers are laid out in order for each hour, so there’s no need to jump back and forth to different sections, as in the books. A free app from Universalis called Catholic Calendar includes that day’s Divine Office readings.

Bringing the Liturgy of the Hours into the new millennium has been the life’s work of Universalis creator Martin Kochanski since 1995, when he discovered a second-hand breviary at a bookshop at Downside Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in his home country of England.

“I always thought a breviary was some- thing that priests and monks used, but I bought it anyway because it was Easter and the joy of the Resurrection was all around,” he said in an e-mail interview from London, adding that he was “blown away by it.”

“I wanted to share the experience,” he said. Initial plans for a CD-ROM version instead became a Web site, featuring his own translation of the Latin, and now a portable phone app. The Web site has free content, including a week’s worth of Divine Office prayers. A one- time fee gives you everything you’d get in a hard copy of the breviary and more.

Nancy Piccione, a writer and blogger from central Illinois, has been a Universalis fan for years, since getting the version for her old Palm Pilot personal digital assistant in the days before smart phones. These days, she’s got the iPhone app.

“What I love most about having the Lit- urgy of the Hours on my iPhone is that I can pray the Office anywhere, anytime,” she told Our Sunday visitor. “So if I get some- where early or have some time waiting for an appointment, I can pray part of the office with a couple of clicks. More often, I usually pray out loud night prayer with the kids at bedtime. And since the phone needs nolight,Icandoitinadarkroom.It’sareally nice way that technology has enhanced our family prayer life.”

When told of Piccione’s comments, Ko- chanski said such feedback impacts his work “immeasurably.”

“Stories like this remind me that what I’m doing is not just a pious hobby but something that has changed lives,” he said. “I know people who carry Universalis into China or Tehran, where the possession of books would be dangerous. Elderly priests who have resigned themselves to never being able to read their breviary again find that with a high-contrast screen and a gigantic font they can see the words once more.

“There aren’t really any words to describe the effect this sort of story has on me. ‘Humbling’ only begins to scratch the surface.”

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The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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