As soon as she wakes up, she prays with her phone. Christiane Pacotte opens the Praer dans la ville application and sits comfortably on the sofa in her living room, a cup of coffee within reach. She then closes her eyes to listen to the Gospel of the day commented by the Dominicans (1). A “concise and impactful” reading that nourishes this Catholic so much on a spiritual level that she says she sometimes forgets her breakfast… The fifty-year-old then does not fail to walk her dog, headphones in her ears, tuned to the lauds prayer sung by the community of Bordeaux. Instead of the concrete streets of the Parisian suburbs, she is transported, by the grace of the soothing melody sung in unison, to a monastic setting.
Like Christiane, nearly 80,000 people use this application to date, far from being the only one to offer this service. Various digital prayer tools are indeed flourishing on the market. Among them: Pray in the City, therefore, launched last April; Hozana, created by a layman who graduated from a major business school; Pray along the way, designed by the Jesuits; Let us pray in Church, by the Assumptionists… Or Click To Pray, the prayer application with Pope Francis which offers daily intentions.
This growth responds to a real demand, a symptom of our hyperactive society. “These online prayers allow believers to find a moment for God in a busy life,” observes David Douyère, professor of information and communication sciences in Tours (Indre-et-Loire). A good solution, confirms Christiane Pacotte, when you work, like her, in a school and when attending the morning services of your parish proves incompatible with “office hours”. Online prayers also punctuate the days of Jean-Marc and Agnès Franchellin, a dynamic retired couple: in the car, in the garden or while doing the dishes, they allow them to “stay in permanent contact with Christ”. The practical side of the application in the phone, slipped into the pocket, speaks in favor of it.
While one in two French people declare themselves to be on a spiritual quest, the offer appeals to Catholics who lack support commensurate with their needs. This is the case of Agnès, 38 years old, engineer in a large agri-food company, living in Versailles (Yvelines). Closely affected by an attack in 2015, she felt the need for spiritual deepening. Sunday mass was no longer enough for her, so she went to the Jesuits, who offered her spiritual support once a month. Faced with his circumspect pout, they then mentioned their application of prayer. Since then, the mother of three children, so often under pressure, uses it daily, during her journey to work, when she eats in front of her computer or in the evening in bed.
These applications help their users to structure their prayer, by providing resources that they lacked until now: biblical commentaries, Ignatian meditations, psalms… “Parishes focus on the sacraments and catechesis, they are not always schools of prayer,” underlines Brother Philippe Verdin, who initiated the Pray in the City application. Users aspire to a time that is more personal than liturgical. “Our goal is to make prayer accessible to everyone, beginners or experienced. », explains Karem Bustica, editor-in-chief of Let us pray in Church (2). Behind the magazine application, a team of journalists, developers, authors, lay people and religious people work on the themes, the choice of images and even the voices…
Can online prayer replace sharing in the presence of each other? Karem Bustica refuses to decide, but recognizes that “an app alone does not allow us to form Church”. However, these tools innovate to foster a vibrant community. In Montpellier (Hérault), Louise, a 23-year-old Catholic looking for a job in communications, has the impression of “becoming one with the universal Church” thanks to the Rosario application. Every day, she prays the rosary using this tool. At the end, she checks the “I prayed” box, which sends an alert to four of her friends who are also registered. If everyone does not connect at the same time, everyone knows that the other has prayed.
A time with God which only lasts five to six minutes a day, but the young faithful applies herself, with an impression of “reciting mechanically” less than before. Above all, she can discuss the text of the day with other members of the group. As for Agnès, from Versailles, if Praying in the City does not replace parish meetings, it complements them. “So many things happen to me on a daily basis, I need perspective,” she notes. I couldn’t do without this app anymore. » With this digital support, and its possibilities for personalization, does prayer run the risk of becoming an object of consumption? Not necessarily, believes Brother Philippe Verdin. “Prayer is the same, in a monastery or in your living room,” he recalls. All you need is silence, peace and regular practice. » When the smartphone becomes a spiritual companion…
(1) The Dominicans of Lille were the first to offer, in 2003, an online prayer offer, “Retreat in the city”.
(2) Publication and app of the Bayard group, such as Pilgrim.