For Father Sergio Codera, a Salesian born in 1980, originally from Barcelona but raised in Seville, technology and religious faith have always gone hand in hand. His first computer was given to him when he received his First Communion and since then he has never dissociated himself from religion or technology.
Fr Codera has always been very active in the communication field as well, and is currently very popular for the content he publishes on social networks, for his interventions on television and for the group he created together with other priests and which is known in Spain as the Curas Locos, or crazy priests. His latest project, carried out with some classes at the Holy Trinity Salesian school in Seville, is to evangelise students by resorting to artificial intelligence.
This help of his comes at a time when the Church is facing a great challenge: recovering the faith of young people. The scenario is complicated: according to the CIS (Centre for Sociological Research) report in July 2021, Spain is less Catholic than ever. The percentage of people who consider themselves Catholic fell from 90.5% in 1978 to 55.4% in 2021. And it is among young people that the absence of faith is most evident. Most people between the ages of 18 and 24 call themselves non-believers. This year, moreover, for the first time in history, the number of major seminarians in Spain has dropped, according to estimates provided in March by the Spanish Episcopal Conference.
Faced with this data, now we have this Salesian priest’s experiment. The idea is to engage students in these pioneering applications and relate them to religion. “Since we started using some applications based on artificial intelligence, I have noticed a significant increase in their motivation and interest in learning,” explained Fr Codera.
The question arises, therefore, as to the dynamics of artificial intelligence, aimed at students. “It depends on the year they are attending” Fr Codera says. “The little ones, for example, work with an application called Lexica, which develops different images according to the description that is provided. The students indicated a list of 31 Christian values, asking that an image be generated with a message that reinforces them.” Hence the image of Jesus Christ with a laptop and a smart-watch.
Older students, on the other hand, are involved in more complex projects and are even editing a book, which will be entirely written by artificial intelligence, according to the parameters and directions provided by the youngsters. “It doesn't have a final title yet, but it will be something like ‘The mainstays of being a good person’ Fr Codera goes on to say. “It will be a book with some 40 chapters; each chapter will contain 25 sentences that AI has written based on the values that have been explained to it. In total, the book will contain 1,000 sentences.”
The idea is therefore to combine different current tools to arouse interest in a topic such as religion. The Salesian explains: “We have traced the path of the missionary journeys of Saint Paul, obtaining the data from the book of the Acts of the Apostles and drawing the lines of the different journeys on Google Maps. We also made automatic presentations about Holy Week, which each student then gave a personal touch by modifying them with another app. ”
Does it work? The answer is yes. The students at the Salesian school involved in the project say that, thanks to technology, religion has become one of their favourite subjects.
But there is a need to be careful about the challenges posed by the use of artificial intelligence. Recently the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) launched an investigation into OpenAI, the owner of ChatGPT. This should lead to a principle of prudence in the use of these applications.
With thanks to ANS for this story