“Hackathon”: Preaching with the Use of the Latest in Technology

Hackathon 2015

On June 5-6, St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco launched the second Catholic Hackathon, an intense 24-hour brainstorming session with the goal of creating novel ways to share the Faith using technology. While hackathons happen regularly in the Bay Area, this event is the first one with a Catholic evangelizing focus.

The term “hackathon” is derived from two words: “hack” referring to an amateur who does something for the love of it, and “marathon.” The Catholic hackathon in San Francisco was the brainchild of a group led by Dominican Fr Emmanuel Taylor. It springs from Fr Taylor’s time as the West Coast organizer of the worldwide Dominican Order’s new media initiative, OPTIC, the collaboration of the Order of Preachers for Technology, Information and Communication.

The goal of the 2015 Catholic Hackathon was “Using Tech to Preach: Moving Hearts to the Gospel.” More than 50 developers, designers and “ideators” ate Greek food and pitched and developed ideas in teams. The judges who are all members of OPTIC included: Fr Bryan Kromholtz, a Dominican systematic theologian, Charles Axel-Dein, a software developer and Fandino, a designer.

Last year’s winner was “PreachBack”, an app that invites users to engage with priests via a feedback loop, letting Mass-goers offer comments on the homily they heard at Mass and to dialogue about ideas.

“That is typically the kind of project that does come from the people of God,” said Fr Eric Salobir, the Dominicans’ international coordinator for digital media, who flew to California for the hackathon this year. Fr Salobir, a Frenchman, is the founder of OPTIC and he was appointed last year to a committee to reform Vatican media efforts. “I want to see how we can recreate this in other countries,” Fr Salobir said of the Catholic hackathon. “I hope to organize one in Nigeria. I think they are ready for that. I think this is so Vatican II. We interact with the people. It is like Liturgy 2.0,”

OPTIC is international, and Fr Salobir said he is part of a European group that has also invented an app, “Doms-Tours”, which is “a free app which turns your smartphone into a tour guide,” and it will work initially guiding visitors through Dominican churches in Rome, France and Spain. “If the Church really wants to be Catholic, universal, we need to do that”, says Fr Salobir.

OPTIC was founded to preach the Faith using technology. The Dominican order actively looks to collaborate with the laity in the mission of the Church, and the Order of Preachers, instituted almost 800 years ago, seeks effective ways to spread the Gospel today.

“This is our charism, to preach, and there’s a new way to preach to this generation — especially through social media and online — so we are trying to find good ways to do that, because there is so much negative material on the Internet,” said Dominican Brother Michael James Rivera, webmaster and chair of the Western Dominican province’s digital media and communications committee. “We want to turn the Internet into a positive tool. We want it to be a place where people can come and ask questions and find answers about faith, about morals and about the Church — to find the truth, to find Jesus Christ. So many people are turning to their smartphones and their desktops, so we have to go there as well.”

The hackathon is just the first project of OPTIC West, Fr Taylor said. The OPTIC approach is energizing priests and the laity to think outside the preaching box especially now that people often do not approach ideas of faith through the traditional hierarchal organization of parishes and dioceses. While the technology is vital, it is also a work in progress for the faith community. “This is a grassroots thing. It is really about us working together.”

The hackathon schedule included prayer, overnight Eucharistic adoration and an opportunity to attend Mass, as well as good food, because it is not just about the product, but also the process.

Culled from Valerie Schmalz’s on OSV Newsweekly



(15 June 2015)