Pray as you go to spread the Catholic Word via mobiles
GIVE us this day our daily text. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is about to score a UK first by urging followers to pray, protest and ponder via their mobile phones.
The nation's 270,000 active Catholics will be offered the unique text message service, which will send out everything from church news to requests to pray.
The service will even attempt to mobilise followers by advising them of radio and television talk shows on moral issues, urging them to call in.
The Church will distribute 100,000 flyers over the next month in an effort to get people to sign up for the new service, which will be free to subscribers and operated by IT-savvy volunteers from the Scottish Catholic Church's headquarters in Glasgow.
Those who sign up will deliver news about appointments in the Church and also ask the faithful to pray for leaders and people in distress. According to a spokesman, examples could include subscribers being given the first name of a pregnant woman in two minds about whether to keep a baby or have an abortion, and asked to pray on her behalf.
The service will also alert Scotland's Catholics to opportunities to air their views, such as radio talk shows discussing issues including euthanasia and abortion.
Subscribers will be alerted to radio shows a few minutes before they are broadcast, and told the phone number to call in order to get on air and make their views known.
Scotland has about 700,000 Roman Catholics, of whom about 230,000 regularly attend services. The leadership estimate they will get at least 20,000 regular subscribers to the service, with the costs expected to be borne by the Church's communications budget.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "We would use it to tell people that, for example, the Gary Robertson show on Radio Scotland is discussing euthanasia or whatever, and here is the number to call."
He denied that such a move would be skewing the balance of opinion on such programmes. He said: "We're giving people the information to call in if they want to, and giving them the chance to make their views known. This is all about mobilising the whole of the Church in the information age."
An insider added: "People in the Church want to make their views known, and they are tired of the airwaves being dominated by a minority of people and their anti-religious views.
"We have a lot of people who want to be able to do their bit and this will give them the information they need."
The spokesman added that the Catholic Church was looking into preparing weekly services, both audio and video, for believers to download and watch, or listen to.
While such services are already available in other countries, they have not been used by the Catholic Church in Scotland so far.
The spokesman said: "We believe there will be a huge demand for this, especially since STV have dropped their weekly services on TV."
Internationally, the Catholic Church has already decided that there are some limits to the use of new technology. Three years ago, the Church ruled that the faithful should not be allowed to submit confessions by text message.
A BBC insider said the Corporation was unlikely to be concerned about people being texted by the Catholic Church about debate programmes.
He said: "It will be up to the producers of the programmes to ensure a balance of views on air. If any organisation wants to alert people to phone in, then that's up to them."
Meanwhile, the Church of Scotland, which already offers a text message Bible verse service, will offer both audio and video podcasts of its General Assembly this May for the first time. The podcasts will consist of edited highlights from the daily worship and debates.
The debates will also be streamed to the latest mobile phones - the 3G models which are capable of displaying live TV pictures.
Neil MacLennan, the Kirk's IT expert, said: "We expect a lot of demand for the streaming and texting services. Remember that not all the ministers go to the General Assembly and they still want to know what happens with the debates. There is considerable international interest too."
But technology has presented an ethical challenge to the stricter Scottish churches, who have had to ponder whether they should encourage internet surfing on the Sabbath.
The Free Presbyterian Church, arguably the strictest in Scotland, closes its website on Sundays just to make the point that the Sabbath is for church and not for computers.
Ironically, their website is one of the slicker Scottish church sites, offering a range of sermons for downloading and even an explanation of why their services are relatively long, typically 1 hours.
Ivan Middleton, the Secretary of the Scottish Humanist Society, predicted that the Catholic Church's initiative, while quite legitimate, might prove a disappointment.
He said: "This is new technology and a perfectly legitimate use of it. But the fact that they're trying to influence opinion in this way smacks a bit of desperation. Their congregations are declining and they are losing their influence."
He added: "The fact is that in my experience producers always strive to get a balance of calls on air, so ultimately this is all a bit futile."
ORIGINALLY added as an afterthought to mobile phones, text messaging has grown to be a huge business and phenomenon in its own right and has even been credited with developing its own variants of English and other languages.
The tiny messages are normally just 160 characters long, although the newer mobile phones and services allow longer texts to be sent. In 2004 a record 24 billion texts were sent by Britons.
Companies have been quick to jump on the text message bandwagon in order to make money.
• SMS jokes sent direct to a mobile, either weekly or daily;
• Text message news and weather services, delivering the latest local headlines and forecasts;
• SMS dating, sending details of a potential match straight to a phone;
• Daily horoscopes;
• Lottery numbers, one of the simplest and fastest ways to check whether one is in the money or not;
• Text message local directory services, allowing a user simply to text PLUMBER, PIZZA, or whatever and hopefully the service will give the sender contact details for their nearest service.
However, some believe that texting has become just too pervasive. In 2002 an Italian archbishop called for Good Friday to be made an SMS-free day.
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