How does a 2,000 year-old institution get in touch with a young, hip audience? By engaging kids on their smartphones.
The Catholic Church is hoping to reach Generation Z with a new app called "Follow JC Go" which, as the name suggests, is a riff on "Pokemon Go."
The game was created by Fundación Ramón Pané, a nonprofit focused on evangelization. It's being used to promote the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, which takes place in Panama from January 22-29, 2019.
The app isn't available yet in the United States, but a demo video gives a glimpse of how it works.
Instead of catching a Pikachu or hundreds of other types of Pokemon cartoon characters, players in "Follow JC Go" encounter saints and other biblical figures while they're walking through the city. Players will be presented with trivia questions they'll have to answer to add to their evangelization team, which the game calls the eTeam.
In Pokemon Go, battles are a key part of rising in the game. However, in "Follow JC Go" there aren't any opportunities to go head to head to see who is the better Catholic or deliver Satan a beating — though there is a leaderboard that shows which countries are doing the best job of following JC via the app.
Catholics can keep their avatars healthy by eating, hydrating, and praying to level up and stay alive in the game. The app also lets players know when they're near a church, so they can stop in for some extra credit.
The app reportedly cost $500,000 to develop and has been in the works since August 2016 — the height of the Pokemon Go craze — according to Crux, a Catholic news site. It was developed by a team of 43 designers, theologians, historians, and engineers.
While the app wasn't directly released by the Vatican, it has reportedly received the blessing of Pope Francis. The self-admitted technology neophyte has embraced the modern world, including joining Instagram and hosting Google Hangouts as a way to engage the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
"Follow JC Go" is currently only available in Spanish, but will be released in English, Portuguese, and Italian in the coming weeks, according to Crux.
So far, the reviews are mixed. The app has a less-than-holy rating of three stars in the Google Play store.
"This project leaves much to be desired," one user wrote.
"It is not a game for everyone," another reviewer said. "It is a game for us, to live our faith in a different way and accommodated to these new times; it seems to me a wonderful modern idea."