NEW YORK -- Dianne Alfaro sat in a pew in the back of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, her head bowed during Mass on Sunday morning. She cast her eyes down as the hymn "Jerusalem My Happy Home" swelled around her.
As the words "Hosanna in the highest!" echoed in the cathedral, she never looked up. That is, until she finished buying a pair of black boots on the internet on her iPhone.
"At some point, the priest during the Mass says, 'Lift up your hearts.' He does not say, 'Lift up your cellphones to take pictures,'" Pope Francis said last week during a general audience at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, where he urged Catholics to leave their phones at home.
But during Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, it seemed either the pontiff's message had not yet reached across the Atlantic or the churchgoers were not listening.
Beside a font of holy water, tourists took in the Mass via the screens of their phones, some mounted on selfie sticks. By the entrance, devotees stood praying, but every so often phone-holding hands would pop up above the crowd to snap a picture. One man stood in the back, hunched in what appeared to be deep devotion -- to select the perfect photo filter for his picture of the cathedral's eaves.
In the pews, most people poured over the missals. But a surreptitious few checked email, planting their phone between the pages of the Psalms. One woman strode boldly through the nave as the organ played, her earbuds in, video chatting all the while.
"It's probably a trend they should embrace," said Edward Zhong, 25, a doctor visiting from Australia with his brother Mark, 21, who spent much of the homily taking pictures. Zhong suggested the church might go so far as create an app for use during Mass. "They probably could access a greater demographic -- people who are born with an iPhone in their hand."
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said that some churches already offer apps, a trend he does not approve. "There are enough occasions for our mind to wander during Mass, we shouldn't be using these artificial things that take us away," he said.
"What happens when you have your phone out? It buzzes, you get a text, you get a Facebook update, you get a notification. Suddenly, you're not thinking about what's happening in the Mass," Zwilling added. "That's the real danger of having your phone."
The archdiocese, as well as the Vatican, regularly broadcasts Mass and other services. Watching sermons beamed from St. Patrick's as a boy was why Sergio Sandoval, 63, had been drawn to visit the cathedral all the way from Dallas on Sunday, with his wife, Norma, 56. Even after learning of the pope's displeasure, the Sandovals were uncertain what the difference was between the two types of filming -- official recordings and their own smartphone clips.
"I wanted to record the organ, it's so powerful," said Sandoval, who runs a day care center with his wife. He had planned to play the recording back home for one of his sons, a preacher. He did not mind that the pontiff disapproved. "I'd still probably do it."
Though firmly of the internet generation at 16 years old, Joseph Kelley, a visitor from Bluffton, S.C., said he would not dare use his phone in church. At his home church, his priest discourages even following along in the Bible, lest reading distract from the moment, he said.
"If you're worried about taking a picture," Joseph said, "you're not really focused on the feelings."
Despite all the selfie-taking at the Fifth Avenue church on Sunday, an anti-phone sentiment seemed to predominate, and it cut across faiths. Outside, Eric Lindquist, 67, a Buddhist from California's Bay Area, was taking pictures of the cathedral spires. "You would never film the sensei," he said. "Or take a picture of the Buddha," for social media, he said. "Share the moment with yourself."
But as the Mass ended, Alfaro, shoes newly purchased, was unrepentant. She finds her connection with God, she said, on her own time, in her own way. And of internet shopping in the pew, she added, "It's not a sin."
Religion on 11/25/2017
Print Headline: Pope: Put down cellphones in church or miss God's call