VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has made waves as a modernizer of the Catholic Church as he signals new openness to divorced worshippers and considers loosening celibacy requirements for priests.
This week, the Vatican turned heads with another nod to changing times: a wearable "Click to Pray eRosary" complete with a smartphone app, the religious organization's latest attempt to connect with young people.
Made of 10 dark beads and a "smart cross" to store data, the $110 rosary, which can be worn as a bracelet, syncs up with what Vatican News calls "the official prayer app of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network."
After activating the device by making the sign of the cross, users can then choose to pray a standard rosary, a contemplative one or different kinds of thematic rosaries that will be updated every year, Vatican News said. The smart rosary keeps track of the user's progress.
The eRosary, available for purchase online, is "aimed at the peripheral frontiers of the digital world where the young people dwell," as Vatican News puts it.
An app-powered gadget may seem at odds with the centuries-old tradition of the rosary - "something associated with your grandparents," said Mathew Schmalz, a religious studies professor at the College of the Holy Cross. But Schmalz, a Catholic himself, sees a neat innovation that's part of a bigger campaign.
"The Catholic Church is trying - and maybe it's kind of late into the game - to reclaim a generation that is close to being lost because of all the polarization and scandals within Catholicism and the general secularization of culture," he told The Washington Post.
The eRosary follows other Vatican forays into the tech world of iPhones, apps and social media.
In 2016, when the pope joined Instagram with the handle @Franciscus, his Twitter account @Pontifex had already racked up nearly 9 million followers. That same year, the Vatican launched its "Click to Pray" app with thrice-daily reminders and a feature allowing users to ask for others' prayers.
Last year, the Vatican even unveiled a game inspired by the wildly popular augmented reality game Pokémon Go. Rather than collect Pokémon characters, users answer philosophical questions to gather up saints and people from the Bible.
Vatican officials have also described extensive efforts to modernize the Church's communications, discussing plans for a "central content hub" following a "Disney business model," allowing content to be more easily shared across platforms.
"We hope that by Easter we will have one new portal for all these different operations, with new software for the multimedia platform that will have texts, images, video and [digital audio] news, as well as podcasts," Dario Edoardo Viganò, then-head of the Vatican's new Secretariat for Communication, told America magazine in 2017.
Schmalz believes the Church has a ways to go if it wants to catch up to many other faiths with tech-savvy. He pointed to Evangelical Christians as a similarly conservative group whose leaders and members are "much more comfortable using new media and new forms of disseminating the faith."
But Catholicism has a long history of adapting to new technologies, he said, going back to the revolutionary invention of the printing press in the 15th century.
"This is a user-friendly way to introduce people or reintroduce them to an important part of Catholic piety," he said.
This article was written by Hannah Knowles, a reporter for The Washington Post.