Catholic San Francisco


Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco

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Is Pokémon Go a tool for evangelization?
July 25th, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco

Is your parish church a Pokémon Go stop? Chances are—yes!



At Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, director Monica Williams has directed employees to greet Pokémon Go players with respect and perhaps share something of the history of the Catholic cemetery.



 “If they do look up and look around, they can see what an extraordinarily beautiful place this is.  That is the best possible outcome. You appreciate these iconic places in our faith community,” Williams said.



At the Monastery of Perpetual Adoration in the Haight Ashbury, the painted iron representation of the monstrance above the gates glows with a white light in the Pokémon Go game.  Just about every church, of any denomination, is a Pokémon Go stop.



At St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, a destination for tour buses, docent and greeter Patricia Hernandez said, “I’ve been seeing more and more people coming in and when they come in, I see the game.”




Since its release July 6 by Niantic Lab, Pokémon Go has become so popular that within a couple of weeks it is on pace to pass Twitter in number of users.  The app uses augmented reality, a real world environment that incorporates computer-generated elements, such as GPS data, sound and video.


 Pokémon Go takes users through their real-life neighborhoods in order to “catch them all.”  Points, prizes and levels are gained by catching Pokémon and by going to Pokéstops -- tagged locations in the real world where users can stock up on gear and points for the game.



“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the visitors who are walking around staring intently at their cell phones,” said Williams, director of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. At Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, there are a several Pokémon Gyms. The gravesite of famous San Franciscan, New York Yankees baseball player and Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio is a Pokémon Gym, she said.



“What I’ve told our staff to tell visitors is, ‘If you can be careful and you can be respectful, you can be here. If you can’t, you have to leave,’” Williams said. The cemetery has a lot of trees and uneven ground, so it is important for people to walk carefully. “More importantly, the cemetery is sacred space and we have an obligation to protect the nature of that.”



What should the church's response be to Pokémon Go? In the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Julianne Stanz, director of the Department of New Evangelization, says it should be go -- as in "go and make disciples of all nations."  Stanz and members of her department created a Pokémon Go resource guide for parishes, "A Parish Primer: Responding to Parish Questions and Concerns."  The four-page guide gives a description of Pokémon Go, a definition of key words, the history of Pokémon and an explanation why parishes should care about the game. The guide is available at



The game builds community as people congregate but, as always, one should keep in mind the usual cautions in dealing with strangers, experts say.



The game is catching fire across generations. “It’s something I can do with my sons,” said one mother, a tourist with her two teenage sons, catching Pokémon at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park.



“Anytime we have an encounter with another human being it is an opportunity for evangelization,” said Father Ryan Kaup, pastor of Cristo Rey parish in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Cristo Rey being a Pokéstop brings people to our doors who never would have come otherwise.”



-Catholic News Agency and Catholic News Service contributed.




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