A new Pope-approved smartphone app is following in the virtual footsteps of Pokémon Go—but in place of Bulbasaurs and battles, players will encounter biblical figures and polite reminders to say their prayers.
As Aisha Hassan reports for Quartz, Follow JC Go is modelled after the smash-hit augmented reality game, which sends users on a hunt for adorable creatures that have been sprinkled across real-world locations. (The “JC” in the new app’s title is, of course, a reference to Jesus Christ.) In the Catholic version, players are tasked with adding saints, characters from the Bible and other devout figures to their “Evangelization Team.” But before they can bolster their religious roster, players have to complete various challenges, like answering tough questions that test their biblical knowledge.
For instance, according to Inés San Martín of the Catholic publication Crux Now, Moses might appear in players’ paths and ask, “Was it me who said: ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” (Actually, it wasn’t; the Gospels of Matthew and Mark attribute that quotation to Jesus.)
Like its predecessor, Follow JC Go uses geolocation technology to root the game in a map of a given user’s location. So the app can detect when players pass by a church, and will suggest that they pause for a moment to say a prayer. When a hospital is nearby, the game prompts players to pray for the sick. According to the BBC, it is also possible to make donations to charity through the app.
Follow JC Go was created by Fundación Ramón Pané, an evangelical organization, with the goal of engaging a new generation of Catholics.
“[L]anguage and relations, among young people, go through smartphones,” Ricardo Grzona, the executive director of the foundation, tells San Martín. “We wanted to be there and propose to them an educational videogame, that is religious and interactive, and with which they can form evangelization teams.”
A team of 43 experts—including not only engineers and designers, but also theologians and Catholic Church historians—have been working on the game since 2016. It is currently only available in Spanish, but English, Portuguese and Italian versions are expected to be released soon.
The app’s creators were on hand during preparations in Rome for World Youth Day, a Church-organized festival geared towards worshippers between the ages of 13 and 35, which is scheduled to take place in Panama in January. The app was presented to Pope Francis, who, according to Grzona, was quite impressed.
“You know, Francis is not a very technological person, but he was in awe,” Grzona tells San Martín. “[H]e understood the idea, what we were trying to do: combine technology with evangelization.”
While it seems that we aren’t likely to see the pontiff wandering through St. Peter’s Square in search of a virtual St. Peter, the game gives more tech-savvy devotees a fun, new way of engaging with their faith. Just remember: when it comes to saints and saviors, gotta catechism ’em all.