OMG! Franciscan friars launch 'Text a Prayer' initiative

OMG! Franciscan friars launch 'Text a Prayer' initiative
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NEW YORK CITY - The largest group of Franciscan friars in the United States is offering the faithful a new way to pray in the digital age by accepting prayer requests via text messages.

The Friars of Holy Name Province, who staff 40 parishes and have colleges, soup kitchens and food centers along the eastern seaboard, as well as groups in Peru and Tokyo, are among a few religious groups offering this type of digital service.

Its "Text a Prayer Intention to a Franciscan Friar" initiative, which is described as faith at your fingertips, is a novel way for Roman Catholics to connect.

Father David Convertino, the New York-based executive director of development for the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Name Province, detailed how the idea developed.

"We were in a meeting and I was noticing that during the meeting a lot of the people were receiving texts. You know how people try to hide it, but they are  still texting. So I was thinking and I mentioned to someone in our office about how many texts people were getting and giving and then we just started talking about how people ask us to pray for them and I thought well, why not have people text us if they want to," he said during an interview with Reuters TV on Friday, January 11.

"Interestingly enough, when we started talking about the idea, some people were saying, 'Isn't it kind of cold? If I face to face to ask you would you pray for me, that's one thing.' But these are people who have no way of reaching anybody who can pray with them or for them and so I think that has opened up a whole door for people," he added.

While holding iPhones, Blackberrys and other smartphones, Father David and his fellow friars explained prayer texting.

The faithful simply text the word 'prayer' to 306-44, free of charge. A welcome message from the friars comes up along with a box to type in the request. When the text is sent, the sender receives a reply.

The intentions are received on a website and will be included collectively in the friars' prayers twice a day and at Mass.

"I was just looking at some of the intentions and they are really quite beautiful, very heartfelt intentions. Things really to pray for for children, pray for people that have terminal illness or cancer. One of the ones that really struck me and caught my eye was elderly people who pray that they could have more contact with their children," said Brother Paul Lostritto.

Since the program began earlier this week, the friars said they have received more than one thousand texts per day from people inside the United States and parts of Canada. The friars added people who can't text to the U.S. have emailed prayer requests from all over the world.

"I think it's kind of what the Franciscans have always done. I think one of the things is that this is for everybody. It's not just for Catholics obviously. So anybody can text us and we would be more than willing to pray with them and for them. It kind of opens up a whole thing. One of the things about the friars is we've always been popularizers. We've always been kind of with the people, as we say, and kind of walk among everyone. So I think this is just another way of reaching out to people," said Father David.

"I think it's beautiful. I think it speaks volumes about people. There are so many people who are hurt and in need and believe in prayer and the power of prayer. I certainly do and I really do believe that prayer can change things, sometimes dramatically. There's been times in my life when I really needed
something really bad or wanted something and you get on your knees and it's amazing how your prayers are answered. So I think it's great. It speaks a lot to what people are about, but also to their trust in us and their willingness to trust us with their prayers and their intimate private intentions," added Brother Paul.

To keep up with prayer demand and new technology, the friars have already renovated their website and the next step is moving into Facebook and tweeting.

The friars also have a presence on LinkedIn and have been streaming some of their church services.

The friars are following the example of 85-year-old Pope Benedict, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, whom the Vatican said had 2.1 million followers on Twitter just eight days after sending his first tweet.

The Pontiff tweets in several languages, including Arabic, and plans to add Latin and Chinese to them.