When a legacy brand tries to stay hip and relevant with young people, the result often looks like Steve Buscemi’s “How do you do, fellow kids” meme. But the latest version is more like “How do you do, fellow Catholics?”
Yes, the Vatican is now trying to get in touch with millennials by releasing a game called Follow JC Go. As the name suggests, it’s based on Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game that was all the rage back in 2016 (and is still played by diehard fans).
Rather than chasing after Pikachu and Squirtle, the Vatican version involves collecting saints and other Biblical figures by answering philosophical questions about them. One hypothetical query on the app’s website is “Who said ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'” (Hint: it was Jesus.)
Once players “catch ’em all” using geolocation, their spiritual squad becomes an “evangelization team” that follows Jesus together. Players have to keep track of their avatars’ nutrition, hydration and “prayer count” by collecting special objects, saying prayers for the sick in hospitals and going into a church whenever they pass one.
The game is now available for both iOS and Android, though its geographical reach is limited. It’s only active in Italy and Spain at the moment, which at least means that you can to go to Vatican City and play a literal game of “Popemon Go.”
Pope Francis is reportedly a fan of the game, which isn’t a shock. While he hasn’t watched TV since 1990, Francis is a technologically savvy pontiff with an active Twitter account where he slams fake news.
The Catholic Church also needs all the help it can get when it comes to millennials. Almost 20 percent of the people who leave the Catholic Church are under the age of 25, and issues such as the ongoing abuse scandal have deterred them from coming back.
But it’s somewhat surprising that the church is using Pokémon Go to reach young people, because people who played the original game got in trouble for wandering into houses of worship.
In fact, Russian YouTuber Ruslan Sokolovsky was sentenced to three years probation because he filmed himself playing Pokémon Go in a historic chapel. Dissidents (including the members of Pussy Riot) defended Sokolovsky, to no avail.
While live streaming his stunt, Sokolovsky actually expressed regret that he “didn’t catch the rarest Pokémon of all, Jesus.” Well, with the Vatican’s new game, he can.