More metro Detroiters using religious apps to help deepen understanding, faith
By Niraj Warikoo
A year ago, Matt Kush would lug around two thick binders of church music to find the right piece.
Now, the music and worship director at St. Kieran Catholic Church in Shelby Township just sets an iPad on his piano stand and reads off the screen using an app — a software program for mobile phones and devices.
“I love it,” said Kush, 26, of Rochester. “It’s so much easier to use,” and it contains his entire music library.
From reciting Catholic prayers to reading the Torah to finding halal restaurants, religious folks are increasingly using apps to connect with God.
This month, Zondervan, a Christian publisher in Grand Rapids, is offering 1 million free downloads of a popular Bible translation. Also this month, a company released a Catholic confessions app, touching off a debate about the intersection of technology and religion.
Some worry that too many gadgets and programs can substitute for real connection with people and with God. But many religious leaders and worshipers are increasingly attracted to the hundreds of religious apps available.
Apps have religious following
In Farmington Hills, a rabbi plans to use an app to find kosher food for his family on an upcoming trip to Disney World.
In Warren, a devout woman reads Catholic prayers and texts daily through the iBreviary app.
And in Dearborn, a Muslim man uses apps to alert him when it is time to pray.
Across the region, religious metro Detroiters are turning to apps on their mobile devices to deepen their faith. Some caution against relying too much on such technology, concerned that it weakens one’s ties to the real world and his or her religion. But many people say apps are convenient tools that make it easier to understand and connect with God. They see the apps as a way to evangelize their faith with attention-grabbing gadgets that draw in the curious.
“It can attract someone who otherwise would not have looked,” said Rev. John Riccardo, a tech-savvy Catholic priest who is pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth. He uses several of the 10 religious apps on his Apple iPhone daily. “It’s a way for the Holy Spirit to grab a person and draw them closer to God.”
Zondervan, a Christian publisher in Grand Rapids, is teaming with Biblica to offer 1 million free downloads of YouVersion’s Bible App through Tuesday. A new app for Catholic confessions released this month has drawn an intense buzz among Catholics. Confession: A Roman Catholic App, the $1.99 program for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, is the first application to help people return to confession, says its maker, Little iApps of South Bend, Ind.
The releases come after Pope Benedict XVI declared last month on World Communications Day that modern technologies can help enhance one’s Catholic faith and “contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity.” The confessions app is not intended to substitute for actual confessions, but can help educate people about the Catholic faith and lead them to real confessions, said Diane Korzeniewski of Warren. She is an avid app user. The confessions app offers an interactive custom examination of your conscience based on your age, gender, marital status, and whether you’re a priest or nun. “Choose from 7 different acts of contrition,” the makers boast.
“It has brought attention to the fact — contrary to popular belief — confession was not done away with,” said Korzeniewski, 49.
Other apps she uses are iBreviary and iPieta, which has a large collection of Catholic prayers, classic writings and scripture.
Jewish and Muslim users
The use of apps is increasingly popular among Jews and Muslims. Rabbi Jason Miller of Farmington Hills said he has about 20 apps on his Motorola Droid 2. From the Torah to Jewish law to kosher restaurants, Miller’s phone has a plethora of information about Judaism.
“Entire volumes of ancient Jewish books … that once took up entire library shelves are now accessible on smartphones in seconds,” Miller said. “Some Jewish techies, like me, are even using iPhones to pray, choosing siddur (Jewish prayer book) apps over traditional printed editions of the prayer book.” He said during a trip to Berlin with other rabbis last week, several whipped out a mobile phone after a meal to look up the correct Jewish prayer to recite.
There are at least 750 Jewish apps on a variety of topics, according to Jewish iPhone Community, a Web site that tracks Jewish apps. One even blares shofar (ram’s horn) sounds for Rosh Hashanah. And one lets users light candles for Hanukkah.
In West Bloomfield, software developers at Captain Moustache created a Dreidel app for Apple devices. It lets kids spin the dreidel, a popular activity during Hanukkah. It also has the Simple Christmas app, which lets users decorate Christmas trees and homes.
The Muslim community, too, uses apps. One notifies users when it is time to say their prayers, required five times a day at specific times. Others contain the Muslim holy book, the Quran, with quick access to verses. Others can find the closest restaurant that is halal, the Muslim equivalent of kosher.
Too much technology?
Dawud Walid, assistant imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad, said such devices, although helpful, can be distracting. He remembers people performing the Muslim pilgrimage at sites in Saudi Arabia, known as hajj, while using apps to post Facebook and Twitter updates.
“When you’re in a sacred precinct making pilgrimage, you should be focused on … spiritual purification , not using a Facebook app,” Walid said.
Others also caution against overuse.
The Rev. Michael Wilkes, parochial vicar at St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, is 28 and often uses Catholic apps. But he said apps are “not to be an end in of itself.”
If the new confession app, for example, “does not lead you to that sacrament” of doing an actual confession, “well, we have some work to do.”
Riccardo uses apps often, but he said, “I have to almost ration the amount of” digital information that “I take in … because I’m assaulted by information all day long.”
Still, he and others say the apps are beneficial.
“Ultimately, we want to help people get closer to God,” says the Rev. Tim Mazur of St. John Vianney, a Catholic parish in Shelby Township. The average age in his church of 3,600 families is 39, “and so this technology is very appealing. We can use current technology to our advantage.”
Adds Wilkes: “This is the age we live in. This is how we reach people…. If we don’t, we’re missing a lot of people who perhaps won’t be touched by … what God might be saying to them.”