By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Two Jesuit virtual missionaries are launching a worldwide high-tech Lenten service this week on their divine online internet site, which allows computer users to pause for a few moments of prayer and contemplation.
Their sacredspace.ie site is receiving 2,000 visits a day from all over the globe and they plan to add a living space for reflection on Ash Wednesday and launch a new service in Portuguese.
A prayer site in Spanish is already thriving and one in Irish, called www.jesuit.ie/tearmann (tearmann means sanctuary) is steadily building a following from language enthusiasts.
Fathers Alan McGuckian, from Antrim, and Peter Scally, from Yorkshire, are leading a team at the Jesuit Order’s communications center in Leeson Street who are promoting their project with the slogan "Praying is PC" displayed on buses in Dublin and Belfast.
"When we started we wondered would anyone pray at their computers but it has obviously really worked," McGuckian said. "It is astonishing, there is not a country in the world I can think of from where we haven’t had a response.
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"We have feedback from woman who lives north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska and we have had hits from China. The site has a particularly big following in the Philippines.
"These sort of responses show how powerful the internet is. These people feel tied into the universal community and the universal church in a way they never felt before."
The Irish site was launched on St. Patrick’s Day last year and will shortly get its 10,000th visit.
"The site has good and bad days but I am very happy with it," McGuckian said. "I have had e-mails in the last month from very fluent writers in Holland and Australia who are using."
The priests wanted to use the more popular web site address of sacredspace.com, but someone has already registered it and, though it is not in use, the owner would not part with it to the Jesuits.
The online payer sessions are in six steps, including preparation exercises and prayer guidance. The passage of scripture is updated every day.
McGuckian said that the main difference between their site and other religious ones on the internet is that they do not tell people what to do.
"It just says right here and now in front of your screen we are inviting you to pray," he said. "It can actually lead people through a prayer experience. On click of the mouse after another you move through the experience."
With the crisis of vocations hitting parish and missionary work, the "virtual" priests are reaching people who might rarely have taken time to pray before.
One executive e-mailed the priests to say he enjoyed the page so much he replaced the New York Times page as the opening screen on his Internet software.
"Maybe in a very busy office somewhere in the middle of Manhattan, that man is now praying," McGuckian said.
He expects extra hits for the 5-10 minute prayer sessions around St. Patrick’s Day and believes the patron saint would fully approve of their project.
"I’d say he’d be delighted. We’re doing the same job, but our way is a bit lighter on the old shoe leather than his."