Pokémon Go game craze brings strangers to churches

August 16, 2016

I live in an Oblate-run parish east of downtown in an area known as Magnolia Park. The local community there is faithful and devotional. Within the black, iron gates of the parish there is a well-respected and beautiful statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe encased in a glass and wooden frame cabinet. 

This area has seen an increase in young adults since the second week of July. How wonderful to see young people sitting in front of Our Lady to pray… no wait… everyone is on their phones… curious.

If you have been following gaming trends over the last couple of weeks, you have probably already concluded that this has something to do with Pokémon Go. You are correct. 

It seems that in the inner cities places of worship have become “PokéStops” such as the one labeled Virgin Mary outside of a church about 1 mile away; but this particular site is a Pokémon Gym! Team Yellow and Team Red have been having battles over who “owns” the gym (Team Blue has yet to take it as far as I know). Now once you conquer a gym the color of your team shines like a beacon of light in the augmented reality world of Pokémon. If you play this game and have invested time to climb levels and evolve your Pokémon, then there is the singular reward that for a moment your light shines. 

Over on the opposite side of town at Rice University where I work there are hundreds of Pokéstops and dozens of gyms to behold. 

Even the Rice Catholic Chapel is a designated Pokéstop. People walk through campus to follow where their phone show the best value for their time at play. 

Perhaps some people might find offense to young adults roaming through church property to play a game that will eventually fall out of fashion. But perhaps, and even more importantly, that Jesus will work through these actions. 

Maybe this is the first time that some have gazed upon an image of Our Lady or stood in front of a church outside of a Sunday. Maybe it moves people to enter the church and take a moment to pray and worship our Lord. Maybe someone wanted to take a moment to be near a church to pray for a private intention and light a candle while out with their friends and this game made that acceptable. 

Maybe, just maybe, somebody playing a game became totally aware God’s grace and began a journey to let their own light shine in the real world and proclaim the Kingdom of God. They may have even prayed for you.

Yes — I am sure by now you have heard of some reckless and poor decisions while playing this game. We are never in short supply to hear about all the mistakes people make in our world. 

But we are in short supply of hearing about stories of how people come to know God through the everyday activities in our world. This happens more than we can count. God — like Pokémon — shows up in the most unexpected places. No need to capture Jesus in a Poké Ball because you don’t have to catch Him. 

Be forewarned though, if you are at a holy place like a church or shrine, Jesus might just catch you — or re-capture you. In the end, that is the reality that really counts and there is nothing augmented about it. 

Father Ray Cook is the director of the Rice University Campus Ministry.