Prayer garden welcomes Pokemon players

Prayer garden welcomes Pokemon players
Photo by James A. McBride Alexis Persson and Joe Infanti use their smartphones to play Pokemon Go on the grounds of Saint Charles Borromeo Parish, Sicklerville, on July 30.

Photo by James A. McBride
Alexis Persson and Joe Infanti use their smartphones to play Pokemon Go on the grounds of Saint Charles Borromeo Parish, Sicklerville, on July 30.



You may have heard about the latest craze called Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game that is played on a smartphone.

Or maybe — somehow — you haven’t.

Since its release in the United States July 6, Pokemon Go has quickly become a cultural phenomenon.

In the first week, the mobile game attracted nearly 21 million users, according to data from Survey Monkey, making it the most popular app in U.S. history.

As a result, the nature of the game is driving swarms of players to unsuspecting churches, businesses and other landmarks.

Pokemon Go uses augmented reality, a real-world environment that incorporates computer-generated elements, such as GPS data, sound and video. Users move around in the real world as they collect tiny virtual creatures called Pokemon — short for pocket monsters. The mobile app is based on the popular franchise that began with several Nintendo games in the 1990s.

Churches, businesses and other landmarks have been designated as PokeStops, where users collect resources needed to catch Pokemon; and Gyms, where competitions are held among the creatures.

Frequently, pastors and church employees have no warning that their church has become a Pokemon spot until the players show up.

Mary Ann Exler, pastoral associate of religious education at Saint Charles Borromeo Parish in Sicklerville, arrived at work one day and saw kids in the church garden holding their phones up.

“That’s how I found out that Saint Charles Borromeo is a PokeStop. The kids told me,” she said.

Ever since Saint Charles Borromeo officially became a PokeStop, visitors have been steady. The players come from all over: Bellmawr, Runnemede, Williamstown, Washington Township and Gloucester Township.

They also range in age. “There are families, guys in their 20s driving in cars, kids on bikes with backpacks coming in. They walk our grounds and our prayer garden, but not inside the church, all in search of Pokemon,” Exler said.

The game especially has been attractive to young adults who grew up on Pokemon in the 1990s.

The mood is fun and upbeat. Everyone is respectful and waves. Exler said: “The kids have been wonderful while they are out there. They have picked up trash and sticks.”

One parent told Exler that he likes the game because his son gets out of the car and wants to do things and go places.

Instead of being annoyed at the steady flow of visitors or opting to have the church removed as a PokeStop, Exler saw the fad as a way to embrace those guests.

“We have a gazebo with a statue of Padre Pio and people have sat down in there. They are also charging their phones. This is an opportunity for us to be able to explain to them who Padre Pio is,” she said.

Signs placed around the church grounds tell visitors that they are welcome.

Having signs made up for the church grounds was Father Mike Matveenko’s idea, Exler said.

One sign says “Saint Charles Welcomes Pokemon Go.” Another reads, “Try to find Jesus while you’re finding Pokemon.” A third sign says: “Welcome Pokemon Go Please enjoy and respect our garden.”

Exler recognizes that there may be people who are seeking a church, perhaps someone new to the area. So, a Mass schedule has also been placed outside.

“Evidently, this game is a lot of fun and the kids love it. It is nice to have them here. This is giving us the opportunity to put a good, positive spin on it,” Exler said.


Contributing to this story was Catholic News Service. 

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