Nearly half a million people prayed on Sacred Space (the online prayer ministry of the Jesuits) in September 2020. John McDermott, Director of Sacred Space says the number of people praying on the site continued to increase every month over lockdown due to the coronavirus, culminating in the record figure for this September. “With most people visiting the website multiple times per month, that meant an average of over 25,000 visits per day or an average of over 1000 visits per hour!” says John, adding that Spanish is the most popular language, followed by English and Portuguese.
While the format of the prayer on Sacred Space has not changed much in 20 years, the technology behind the prayer has to be updated and John says the Sacred Space team is hard at work developing the next generation of the Sacred Space website.
“A state of the art technology platform is being developed to manage the multilingual content on the website as well as the Apple and Android apps.” he says, adding that the new platform “will allow for new features like a multilingual app, reuse of existing translations to reduce the workload for the translators, new designs and interactivity, new prayer formats, increased performance to handle more visitors, increased security and much more.” The team plans to launch the new platform in 2021.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes of Sacred Space, there is a team of volunteers who are central to the running and success of our daily prayer. They are “exceptional” according to Fiona Owens, the Office Manager with Sacred Space. She explains that the volunteers are from all over the world and total approximately 100 people working in various teams including the Translators Team; Prayer Team; Social Media Team; Content Writers Team; Feedback Team.
“We had our first full Sacred Space Volunteer Team meeting last week via zoom where we had the opportunity to see the faces behind the names and it was a wonderful experience. Many told us how honoured they felt to work with Sacred Space as our online worldwide community of prayer goes from strength to strength,” says Fiona.
One of the more recent volunteers is Louise Halpin from Dublin who manages the Sacred Space Social Media Team. Sacred Space prayer is available on four Social Media platforms; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. “We have 24K lifetime likes on Facebook, 533 followers on Instagram and 6454 followers on Twitter,” says Louise, adding that the main focus of the Social Media posts is to bring God’s word to people every day to encourage them to pray.
“We post a verse from the gospel reading of the day alongside a striking graphic that helps to bring out the message of the gospel,” says Louise, adding that “for the most part, people are very happy to have the Word of God show up on their feed so they can take a moment to turn their thoughts to Him.
The feedback from those who engage with our social media pages is very encouraging she says, adding that, “It’s lovely to read comments like, ‘It may not be the answer you are asking for but it will be the answer you NEED!’ or ‘The Ignatian way is a beautiful exercise to get close to Jesus and talk to him as a friend. I always do that.'”
At present, the Sacred Space team is preparing their online Advent retreat which they offer every year in collaboration with Pray-As-You-Go, the audio prayer ministry of the Jesuits in Britain.
This year’s Advent retreat is entitled “The Nearness of God” written by Gemma Simmonds CJ. According to Pray-As-You-Go the retreat is a reminder that although “we have spent so much of 2020 physically apart from each other, or at least more distanced than ever before, the Incarnation shows how it was vital to God’s plan for him to draw near to us in the flesh as God-with-us”. The retreat will run from 26th November to 28th December 2020.
Fiona Owens notes that as the number of people praying on the Sacred Space site continues to grow, so too does the feedback that they receive from around the world. “Sacred Space is touching the hearts and lives of many people in all walks of life,” she says. “Some of our messages include ‘I am busy mom homeschooling my three children and love using the App in between lessons’; a priest in the Philippines who tells us that Sacred Space ‘helps with his daily spiritual nourishment’; and another who is ‘the third generation of my family to use Sacred Space and it is more helpful than ever this year during the pandemic”’
The Sacred Space prayer book for 2021 is now available from Messenger Publications.
Fiona wants to invite anyone reading this article to join the ever-growing Sacred Space online prayer community around the world. “Check out our website, or our social media platforms, or maybe even dip your toe in the water by starting with our Advent Retreat on 26 November. You’ll be most welcome.”