The Vatican is launching an iPhone application, and it chose a California priest to deliver the app's inspirational message.
The Rev. Michael Manning, 69, host of a longtime show on Trinity Broadcasting Network, author of several books and recipient of a 2006 papal award, will deliver daily inspirational video messages on the app, which is expected to be released in early April.
The app, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory Foundation, is apparently the first from a Vatican-affiliated institution. The Rev. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said from his Vatican office that he is unaware of any other.
The potential audience is huge. More than 75 million iPhones and iPod Touches have been sold since 2007, according to their manufacturer, Apple Inc. Users download and install apps -- which are software programs -- onto their devices. There are about 140,000 iPhone-compatible apps.
Although the foundation app is apparently the first developed by a Vatican institution, the Vatican has worked with an Italian priest on an app that includes the daily prayer of the church. Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged priests to use new technology.
Other Catholic apps, without formal Vatican collaboration, have also been launched. iConfess offers prayers of contrition and an explanation of the seven deadly sins. iRosary allows users to move Rosary beads on a touchscreen and includes prayers for each bead.
Most of the Observatory Foundation shows will be filmed in the San Bernardino, Calif. studios of Wordnet Productions, a Catholic television ministry that Manning founded. Others will be filmed in Rome and other locations, said Robert Thorne, CEO of The Robert Thorne Co., a Beverly Hills firm that co-manages global licensing and media for the foundation.
The foundation chose Manning for the app because of his ability to effectively convey the church's message, Thorne said.
"He's very good at what he does, and he's a very clear and concise communicator," Thorne said. "And he is a compelling presence on screen, with a meaningful depth of message."
The foundation raises money for the Vatican Observatory, which has telescopes near Rome and in the Arizona desert. The observatory was founded in 1891 as a bridge between the Catholic Church and science.
The app will help fund the observatory's research and education efforts, Thorne said. Its price has not been determined. Like other iPhone apps, it will be sold through the Apple Web site.
Pittsburgh-based Wizzard Media, the world's largest podcasting network, is developing the app and will distribute it. A companion Web series will include highlights from the app and behind-the-scenes production footage.
The app is the latest effort by the Catholic Church to use rapidly changing technology. The Vatican inaugurated a YouTube channel last year, and many dioceses -- including San Bernardino -- have Facebook pages.
The Rev. Mark Morozowich, a professor of liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said the church has adapted to new technology since the invention of the printing press.
"The message is what's important, not the medium," he said.
Morozowich said brief iPhone videos like Manning's can lead to a more thorough exploration of Jesus' teachings.
"As people's intellect gets touched, they will have deeper questions, and they will want to pursue and develop those ideas," Morozowich said. "It gives you a taste of what's to come."
John Andrews, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, which serves 1.2 million Catholics in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, said Manning is on the cutting edge of church outreach.
"It is increasingly evident that this is the future of evangelization," he said.
Manning said he hopes his audience will include Catholics wanting a spiritual connection during the week and non-Catholics wanting to find out more about the church. The show will likely last about four minutes.
"This is for the person with an iPhone who is in a rush and trying to look at it for a few minutes at lunch," said Manning, a member of the Society of the Divine Word missionary community who has a ready smile and often wears cardigan sweaters over his priestly vestments.
The show will include biblical readings and a reflection on those verses to connect them to people's everyday lives, Manning said. Viewers will be able to submit questions, which Manning will answer in later app videos.
Topics Manning said he might discuss range from the meaning of biblical verses to women's ordination. There will be a special emphasis on connecting science to church teaching, because of the Vatican Observatory Foundation's sponsorship, he said.
"This will offer a wonderful chance to expose the goodness of Christ to many people who would ordinarily not receive this message," Manning said.