Saturday, June 19, 2010

The iPriest Returns

Indeed, gang, the lines have already begun. Again.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that the coming week will see the release of the fourth-generation iPhone.

Lest anyone's thinking the now-ritual late June rollout's rolling steam, it's worth noting that pre-orders for the next incarnation of Apple's already-ubiquitous "Jesus" gadget exceeded 600,000 on their first day, immediately putting the device on a monthlong backorder.

Further underscoring the point, last week's day-one demand surpassed that of last year's release by a factor of 10.

And all of it sight unseen, at that.

The news might seem a little too tech-y for some or not germane to this beat. In reality, though, it's just one piece of a matter of integral importance to the life -- and, above all, the future -- of this church.

Just under three years since its inception, this month will see the sale of the 100 millionth device running the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPod touch and, now, the iPad. The tide is anything but ebbing; projections show the platform's market-penetration at least doubling to some 200 million units in circulation by the end of 2011. Yet while the platform has arguably made its name on the back of the App Store -- the iTunes-based open market for software developers to, essentially, put whatever they want together as free-standing programs downloadable to the hardware -- the energy, gumption and sense of investment shown by the largest faith on these shores remains, candidly, comparable to crickets.

As of this writing, some 200,000 entries exist in the App Store. All of one, however, was produced by an American diocese -- and to boot, by a local church whose tech infrastructure was, just some months earlier, largely wiped out in a hundred-year storm.

For a market now numbering 100 million -- and growing rapidly -- as the "institutional church" goes, folks, that's all you'll find. And as the Church (i.e. God's people, in full) goes, the rest of what's out there is commendable simply for the fact that it exists, yet often reflects its roots in the efforts of pioneering, zealous laity making a contribution born solely of their time, talent and interest, usually on their own, and invariably without any outside encouragement, budget or support.

Bottom line: for a people commissioned to "go out into all the world," and at a time when fulfilling that is easier than ever before, we've got a ways to go, church -- and the platform in question here is but one mammoth case in point.

* * *
To be clear, though, not all's been below-par... and one of the few iChurch success stories that's been had just keeps rolling along.

Within weeks of 2008's release of the second iPhone -- and, with it, the birth of the App Store -- a young parish priest in the Italian countryside cooked up an easy recipe for unlikely success: put the full Liturgy of the Hours (four-volume print price: $150, give or take... not to mention the hassle of carrying it around) into an application that would automatically load that day's Office -- all five Hours of it -- onto an iPhone in six languages: antiphons, hymns, propers and all.

Carrying an initial price-tag of US$1.99, Fr Paolo Padrini's iBreviary racked up an impressive 10,000 downloads within days of its release. Since then, it's made its way onto some 200,000 devices; the figure includes a free version of the program for Google's "Droid" phone.

After 20,000 copies, the app became available for free for iPhones. But beyond its fiscal rewards, iBreviary's success -- and the global media coverage given its creator -- brought Padrini (right) into the Roman spotlight; now an advisor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the cleric spearheaded the creation of Pope2You, a papal web-portal intended to launch the Vatican into the world of social networking. (Even if B16's never once been photographed using a computer.)

Still, the evolution of the newly-renamed iOS has called for a reboot, and in recent weeks Padrini rolled out a new version of his creation: iBreviary Pro, this time containing the entire Missal -- ordinary, propers, prefaces, everything, again in the same host of languages.

(And this time, it's free right out of the box.)

That said, upon news that a full-tilt iPad version of the app is soon to arrive -- and, with it, the notion of the devices replacing the bound-and-printed Sacramentary on altars -- the iPriest is being covered again in earnest:
"Paper books will never disappear," he said in a phone interview from his home parish in Tortona, in Italy's northern Piemonte region. But at the same time "we shouldn't be scandalized that on altars there are these instruments in support of prayer."

Padrini, 36, said he expected priests who have to travel a lot for work would find the application most useful, noting that he recently had to celebrate Mass in a small parish where the missal was "a small book, a bit dirty, old."

"If I had had my iPad with me, it would've been better than this old, tiny book," he said.
* * *
Sure, church, we've got more than enough problems to trudge through these days. Truth is, though, many -- if not most -- of 'em tend to come back to the same two elements: outreach and effective communication... or, far too often, the lack of both.

Even now, no shortage of ecclesial attitudes toward new technologies (read: new ways of building communion) tend to be caught up in a very palpable sense of... well, two things -- intimidation at setting out into what can often seem like a complex, daunting scene, and the degrees of it manifested in an aversion to even trying, and a line of thought usually taking some variation of "they're not looking for what we've got."

But the thing is, folks, they are. And you'll never know it, never see it, 'til you try.

Much more could be said, but it all amounts to this: a hungry world keeps waiting, gang... so let's give 'em something good.

PHOTOS: AP(1), Reuters(2), Gizmodo(4)