Play and pray with Pokémon Go

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Pokémon Go has come to the Arlington Diocese and it's here to stay - for now. The mobile app phenomenon hit gamers' smartphones July 6 and players have in turn hit the road in droves in search for PokéStops, gyms and the elusive Pokémon characters they are trying to catch. Some players are finding themselves in places they would not normally go - including church.

In the past week, a number of churches in the diocese have seen an increase in traffic because unbeknownst to them there is a gym or Pokémon spot near their location. The pastor and church employees have no warning that their church has one of these spots until the players come knocking.

Kevin Flynn, who works at the front desk at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, noticed a large group of young men in their 20s hanging out in the parking lot with their phones in the air.

"My daughter told me later that the chapel was listed as a gym," said Flynn. A gym is a place where Pokémon players can come and train or do battle with other players. Some players prefer to visit the gyms in the late evening when less people are playing. At least four vehicles were seen at St. Leo Church in Fairfax around 9 p.m. engaged in a battle for the gym located in the parish's prayer garden.

Many parishes are trying to figure out how to reach out to gamers visiting the parish, while also standing firm about not trespassing overnight or catching Pokémon in the church. Seminarian John Paul Heisler described a group of players who came into Church of the Nativity in Burke during the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday in search of a Pokémon. According to Heisler, players were oblivious to the sacredness of what was happening.

Father Patrick L. Posey, pastor of St. James Church in Falls Church, sent out a letter informing parishioners about the six PokéStops on the church property. He welcomed players to visit the church but asked them to be respectful. He also encouraged players to celebrate the feast day of St. James with them at their ice cream social Monday, July 25.

"Hopefully, once a person finds the Pokémon, they will enter the church and find Christ. Just to be clear, I do not believe there is anything wrong with playing Pokémon Go. However, I do think people are happy to search for Pokémon and reluctant to search for Christ because He calls us to give more of ourselves."

Thankfully there are Pokémon players out there that know how to be respectful and are using it the way it was intended - to get players out and experience the world.

Kathryn Gliot, a 19-year-old parishioner at St. James, has been using the game on her early morning runs.

"I played Pokémon when I was a kid so it's cool that it is getting people who are gamers outside," said Gliot. She encourages new players to come up with a route so they are familiar with traffic patterns and don't get lost or injured. She added, "Don't look at your phone while crossing the street."

While she enjoys the game she recognizes that some players take Pokémon Go too far.

"You don't have to go inside the church to catch the Pokémon," said Gliot. "I think there should be a way for churches to complain about it or have [gyms] moved to a different location."

There is now a way for pastors to request the removal of gyms and PokeStops on their campuses. Submit a request at the link below.

Pokemon Go Support

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016