Ash Wednesday Feb 25 ’09 marks the tenth anniversary of Sacred Space, the first online prayer website in the world and developed by the Jesuits in their Communication Centre in Leeson St Dublin. The site guides the visitor step-by-step or click-by-click through prayer and was originally in English only. Today it’s available in almost twenty different languages worldwide and up to 20,000 unique visitors come to the site every weekday.
The site has five million visitors annually and one million viewing pages per month. The website has developed beyond its daily prayer to include scripture commentaries, areas to write and send prayers, e-mail greeting cards, novenas and audio.
“This is very much in line with the Jesuit approach to prayer,” according to Piaras Jackson SJ, the editor of the site. “From the Spiritual Exercises to operas, Jesuits have always tried to help people find engaging and imaginative connections with the gospel.”
Fr Jackson expects a big increase in visitors this Ash Wednesday. “We often see even more people logging on to pray on dates with religious significance. The computer nowadays is what the prayer book was for many, years ago. We guide people very simply through prayer and for many people, the computer is where everything happens – it’s where they keep notes make appointments, get information. So it’s no surprise that it’s also where people pray.”
According to Fr Jackson the site receives feedback from people all over the world, many of whom work in offices and some of whom pray at home. There are also a growing number of people praying online on their mobile devices.
“Even though they are praying alone and in front of a screen the feedback that we get tells us that people really do feel part of a worldwide community of prayer. And if you google ‘prayer’, the Sacred Space website regularly comes up on the first page.”
The Feedback section of the website features daily comments from people in countries across the globe, including the following from America: “Deepest thanks to the wonderful Irish Jesuits who produce and maintain this site. I have been a visitor ever since. I teach Christian Yoga in a Catholic and Presbyterian church here in Connecticut, and I have used the prayers from this site as Christian Meditations before and after the classes.”
One site visitor from Sweden wrote: “For us working at our daily computers, the computer easily becomes a kind of “hostile environment” crowded with the grief’s of the world, alarming news and all sorts of stress and bad impressions. Sacred Space offers an alternative to all that. It’s also good that the page so explicitly reminds us of the presence of our Saviour… Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, whatever, confessing Christians of all denominations need the presence of Christ even in cyberspace.”
And the Philippines: “I often visit Sacred Space and am very grateful … Today I posted a prayer request for my sister’s well-being. She is very depressed”.
According to Piaras Jackson, “Nowadays we hear a lot of negative stories. Many people find our Feedback pages to be inspiring. Just reading the positive messages from around the globe is very encouraging. The messages we get range from longer and detailed enquiries to the short text-like ones such as ‘You guys rock! Thank you for all you do’.”