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Covid Opened the Virtual World to the Church

Helped by the technology that was already in place, Covid-19 acted as a perfect storm to usher in a new era in every aspect of our lives. Work and education moved to the virtual realm almost overnight, and our private lives also underwent changes, perhaps subtler than those that affected offices and schools yet no less important.

The way the faithful relate to the religious practices also was transformed. It may still be too early to assess the full impact of such a major event on religions, but some numbers are already in.

And the Church responded remarkably quickly to the challenges brought in by the pandemic. It rapidly enacted liturgical changes in everything from the livestreaming of services to the way communion was given (or not, during lockdown) and the passing of peace.

Even traditional denominations that tend to move very slowly in the face of technological or societal transformation acted decisively. They adopted changes that according to historical precedent would have taken years, if not centuries.

Unsurprisingly, the picture is mixed. The number of persons who identify themselves as Christian has been dropping steadily in the United States, from 82 percent in 2000 to less than 7 percent in 2020, said The Economist in an article in January. It went on to say that according to the latest poll by the World Values Survey, a global network, about 30 percent of Americans say they attend a religious service at least once a week, which is a lot compared with other rich countries. “But the figure has fallen steadily from 45% at the turn of the millennium,” the article added.

Yet a survey by Catholic Voices, a project begun in the UK to improve the Church’s representation in the media, presented a more upbeat portrait. Over 2,500 Catholics in England, Wales, and Scotland were surveyed in May-July 2020, about their experiences and attitudes at the time, during the first lockdown.

Of those polled 93 percent accessed Church services online during COVID19. “This high figure naturally reflects the fact that this was an online survey circulated directly by Bishops, clergy, religious orders, lay and diocesan networks,” the report said.

Despite a high level of engagement and appreciation of online worship (66 percent) the results suggest that there is little danger of a mass exodus to the virtual world, with only 4 percent thinking they would worship mainly or entirely online in the future.

Moreover, 80 percent of those surveyed believed that church buildings are central to faith witness in the community and 84 percent disagreed with the suggestion that church buildings are an unnecessary burden and expense.

Still, Archbishop Anoushavan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Church in New York, said that some of these changes unexpectedly contributed to expanding its flock in a virtual world. “Virtual outreach has opened a new dimension in our service,” Archbishop Anoushavan said in July 2021 in an interview with Crossroads, a Prelacy newsletter Verb Company helps prepare. “During the coronavirus pandemic, while disastrous, our eyes were also opened to new horizons to carry out evangelization.”

The Divine Liturgy at St. Lazarus of the Armenians in Venice is being livestreamed on Sept. 7, 2021.

Google funds Pro Mujer’s efforts to empower women in Central America

Pro Mujer, an organization committed to the empowerment of women in Latin America, is one of the organizations slated to receive a share of the $1.2 billion Google will invest in the region over the next five years.

With these resources, Pro Mujer will help women-led businesses in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras gain access to training and microcredit.

The investment was announced by Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai during the IX Summit of the Americas, held earlier this month in Los Angeles. At the summit, Carmen Correa, CEO of Pro Mujer, joined US Vice President Kamala Harris and the Partnership for Central America to launch In Her Hands, a private sector initiative to empower, train, and protect women in northern Central America and across the Western Hemisphere.

Carmen Correa, CEO of Pro Mujer in Bolivia

Computational thinking in non-technical pursuits

Starting in 2021, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, the world standard in educational performance, include questions in computational thinking, the problem-solving approach that serves as the conceptual backbone of digital technologies.

Andreas Schleicher of OECD, from where PISA is conducted, and Hadi Partovi of Verb’s customer, explain why in a joint blog post: “Computational thinking, when taught well, can prepare students to apply problem solving, creativity, and collaboration in all sorts of domains — whether they be technical pursuits such as coding, cybersecurity, robotics and AI, or nontechnical pursuits such as law, logic or philosophy.”

Example of the type of computational thinking question that could be included on the 2021 PISA assessment