MILWAUKEE — The Pokémon Go craze is sweeping the country and it’s likely most people have heard of the video game, whether from friends, relatives, the local news, the billboard on I-43 South or one’s own playing experience.
The San Francisco-based Niantic Company released the mobile game for iOS and Android devices on July 6, and it has since become the latest trend for people of all ages.
The game, which is free to play, takes users on a walking journey to find PokéStop and Pokémon gyms and to catch wild Pokémon. Many times the PokéStops are important or historical sites within the area and several are area Catholic churches..
Dan Schley, a parishioner at St. Sebastian, Milwaukee, said the concept of the game and the PokéStops leads to a greater knowledge of different communities.
“There’s a little information you are getting about where you are (when playing the game). It’s kind of neat,” he said.
Schley became a casual Pokémon Go user after his son in Oregon began playing it. He noticed his parish, on the corner of 55th Street and Washington Boulevard in Milwaukee, was a PokéStop.
“For people who aren’t from the area, you get to the stop, you click on it (the stop), and a picture of the church comes up. It says it is St. Sebastian, the year it’s founded, etc.,” he said.
Schley’s wife, Barbara, who does volunteer communication work for the parish, recently published a note in the parish’s e-newsletter noting St. Sebastian is a PokéStop and suggesting it offers an opportunity for evangelization.
“Don’t be surprised to see new faces around the facility, because somehow the exterior of St. Sebastian has been chosen as a Poké Stop,” she wrote in an entry titled, “Pokémon site at Sebs.” “As part of the new smartphone game, Pokémon Go, players travel to real-life locations called Poké Stops in order to receive virtual items. Hopefully, our new friends will find peace and God’s presence in addition to a Pikachu and Geodude!”
Other parishes in the archdiocese have also begun noticing they are receiving more visitors because of these PokeSpots and Pokémon gyms.
Monica Cardenas, director of stewardship at St. Eugene, Fox Point, and St. Monica, Whitefish Bay, recently posted signs and shared on social media that the two parishes were PokeStops. The parishes’ Facebook posts read, “Yes, we are a PokéStop. Trainers are welcome at our church! Jesus loves you no matter what team you chose or color you are. Supplies outside, prayer and worship inside #PokemonGO.”
While Cardenas is uncertain of the impact the game may have on bringing in people to worship, she pointed out the communal aspect of the game.
“It does create community, awareness and provides an opportunity for our parish to be the hands and feet of Christ. The signs that I posted caused conversation among our parishioners and they are there to welcome anyone who visits the parish grounds. We want to be a welcoming community and acknowledging a guest’s presence is an important step of being hospitable and making a connection.”
Maggie Pernice, director of liturgy at Christ King, Wauwatosa, said, “Within the past several weeks, we started noticing groups of mostly young people hanging out – and staring intently at their phones – on the front of the parish behind our large ‘Christ King Parish’ sign. We discovered that our front lawn is the site of a level 5 gym and that they are gathering to fight and train Pokémon.”
Pernice said the parish is looking at ways to take advantage of this Pokémon gym location and use it as a tool for evangelization.
St. Dominic, Brookfield, has a PokéStop at its bell tower, according to Meg Picciolo, director of marketing and communications for the parish.
The parishes did not request these PokéStops. Pokémon Go recreational user Molly Kate Menzter said, “The locations are picked based off an algorithm that looks at where the population flows. This better explains why inappropriate places are being taken over by Pokémon.”
Just recently the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., asked for Pokémon users to not play at the sacred site. According to Schley, locations can ask to be removed from the PokéStop list.
Those interviewed at parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee saw no reason to be removed from the PokéStop list as the users are not causing any problems or interfering with parish life. While the churches may not have discovered a technique to evangelize these mobile Pokémon trainers, the presence of the people has positively impacted the community.
As Schley noted, more people are walking around in the community. He joked, “Here is an industry that for the last 20 years has gotten people sitting on their butts playing video games and now has tricked people into going outside.”
“They’re out getting exercise. They are in the community. I don’t see a downside to any of that,” he said.
Of the Pokémon Go users’ interactions directly with the parish community, Schley said, “If someone is curious enough to come in the church, they are 100 percent welcome. Right now, at least they are noticing it.”