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Hallow Your Lent, Find Peace in Prayer

Posted on Mar 23, 2020

In these uncertain and strange times, many Catholics find themselves in particular need of pastoral guidance and care as many dioceses have canceled public Masses due to the spread of COVID-19. Regular prayer groups and routines have been disrupted, and our prayer life may be disrupted. One app that is uniquely equipped to meet this need is Hallow.

In 2018, five young Notre Dame alumni founded a startup to help young Catholics practice meditative prayer. In our overcrowded schedules and noisy, busy world, meditation apps—like Headspace, Calm, One Giant Mind—have proliferated. These meditation apps walk users through physical and mental exercises of relaxation. 

Hallow provides Christian meditation, which doesn’t just provide us with mental health, but with relationship, a way of carving out space in our day to spend with God. Time spent with God gives a peace that the world—or any meditation app—cannot give.

During this time of uncertainty, Hallow is offering their premium content for free for three months and piloting remote community connections, so that Catholics looking for consistency and community in their prayer lives can access their content.

I sat down with two members of the founding team—Bryan Enriquez, head of customer engagement, success, and community; and Alessandro DiSanto, head of growth, who also leads educational partnerships, and multi-channel marketing efforts.

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De Sales: So tell us a bit about Hallow: who are you? And how have you grown?

Alessandro DiSanto: Hallow is a Catholic meditation app that helps users deepen their relationship with God through contemplative prayer; helping both those new to prayer and those with existing prayer routines discover new forms of prayers. Hallow tries to bring ancient—but sometimes forgotten— forms of contemplative prayers into our everyday lives. Hallow also seeks to reach out to others who may not have a natural connection with the Church or may have fallen away from practicing faith. Finally, Hallow reaches those who are looking for the peace and focus that they may have found in secular meditation apps and offers them a focus on spiritual growth.

Bryan Enriquez: “Hallow” means to sanctify or make holy. Hallow is seeking to make our time and our days holy. We’re not the institutional Church, but we are the Church, the Body of Christ. As laity, we asked, what role can we play? 

Sometimes Catholics think: “I’m not a priest, I can’t make that much of an impact. But you CAN make an impact. We’re all called to spread the word of Christ in many different forms. We can inspire other people. And that’s how Hallow aims to inspire the Body of Christ. 

Hallow was born out of a call. Each of us felt called to do this. We were each ordinary young professionals going about our lives, asking purpose-related questions. We did not know that contemplative prayer existed. But Hallow really was the fruit of a prayerful discernment: to quit our jobs and follow the call to start a contemplative prayer app.

 

DS: Who are the Hallow listeners? What is the growth you’ve done in the past year? 

AD: We’re about evenly split across three age ranges: 18-35; 35-55, and 55+. We have a strong group of Catholic listeners, but our top user is a non-Catholic, an Evangelical Protestant. Some of our top users are Presbyterians, Lutherans, even self-described agnostics. 

BE: Our users are an ecumenical, global group: we have users in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and over 50 other countries. Since we launched the app in December of 2018, Hallow has been downloaded over 150,000 times.

AD:  We’re the #1 Catholic app in the Apple App Store! 

DS: Studies show us that phones increase our distractibility and decrease our attention spans. How do you make Hallow something that enables relationships and not a distraction?

BE: We believe in meeting people where they are. The one place where people definitely are is on their phones. If Jesus had waited at the temple, he would have never found the fisherman.

We’ve designed the app intentionally to disappear. We want you to close your eyes and forget about the phone and just be present in prayer. To that end, we’ve designed the app so that there’s nothing visual. In meditations, we don’t include the words of Scripture, we don’t include scripts or text in any part of the app.

When you open Hallow, you just hit the play button and then can distance yourself from the phone. The physical device in front of you is not important, rather we put the focus on the interior truth that is opening up to you. Like when Elijah goes up to the mountain and hears God in the still, small breeze. In Christian meditation, we’re not just seeking silence, but the voice that speaks to us in the silence. It’s a two-way conversation. 

DS: What are your 2020 goals?

AD: We have a couple big goals for 2020. Content-wise, by the end of 2020, we hope to have the majority of content in Spanish to serve the bilingual Latinx community in the USA and beyond. We also plan to continue to build out our sleep-focused content, which allows users to wind down with night with God.

As for growth, we hope to develop our relationships with schools and parishes more. We’re developing programs to support Catholic school teachers in the classroom with Hallow App materials. Mental and spiritual health are two huge challenges for the younger generations and we want to support them in strengthening both. 

BE: We are growing our community services for Hallow. We’re offering our first Hallow Retreat this summer. We’re reaching out to Catholic apostolates to build our affiliates programs. The affiliates program offers special benefits to group members. Any organizations that might be interested, should contact us! We’re always looking to expand our community and support others. 

A key group of communities that we’re partnering with is parishes. We want to partner with parishes, support their work, and help them grow their faith community in their own way. We’ve created parish kits for parishes to market Hallow to parishes.

And we’re working on group content such as women’s and men’s groups, young adult prayer hours, and bible studies which can be done in person or over the phone. When conducting research, we found the two main barriers we found to faith leaders feeling confident leading a prayer group were: “I don’t have the time” and “I don’t have the words.” Leading groups in prayer can be challenging, and we’re offering the resources to others to lead them. They can be made available by emailing me directly: bryan@hallow.app

This includes our first session which is called the Saints Pack, which features nine sessions of content that each focus on the life of a different Saint and is modeled after our Saints challenge in the app. 

DS: What is Hallow Doing for Lent?

AD: This year we’re offering the Pray 40 Challenge – 40 individual sessions for every day of Lent. We’re not going to go through Lent alone, but as a community. During Lent, we’re committing, with the Church, to a daily prayer habit to help us not only grow closer with God, but to develop a healthy relationship with technology.

***

I asked some of Hallow’s staff to share their Lenten disciplines, and here’s what they had to say. 

Alessandro DiSanto 

“Taking only cold showers. Dying to myself a little bit every day helps keep me focused that we are not made to seek only comfort in this world.”

 Bryan Enriquez

“In addition to giving up alcohol and taking lukewarm, quick showers, I’m committing to saying a quick prayer before I get to bed and right when I wake up, and devoting time twice a week to praying in a group outside of Mass.” 

Erich Kerekes

“I’m giving up meat entirely until Easter (This is a big thing for me, I grill out almost every night!) and committing to fasting on Fridays beyond just fasting from meat. I’m trying to not eat anything at all until dinner or around sunset. Additionally, I’m committing to at least 20 minutes of prayer every day, with a particular focus on listening to God and spending time in silence.” 

Alex Jones

“In addition to committing to daily mass, meditation, and holy hours, I’m fasting entirely on Wednesdays or Fridays, unless I share a meal with someone who’s experiencing homelessness or poverty.”

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 A sample of a recent week of Hallow’s Lenten programming includes: Meditating on the works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, Mother Teresa’s spirituality, Stations of the Cross and meditations on caring for others or Works of Mercy, the Sorrowful Mysteries, praying with Mother Teresa and so much more! 

 You can easily share Hallow’s content with your community, parish, or faith group with the email template the Hallow team has created here.

To meet the needs of those self-quarantining and social distancing, Hallow has curated a “Stuck at Home” Praylist: the “Stuck at Home” praylist features prayers focused on trust, healing, and trusting in God’s will. You can foster your prayer life by praying with the Hallow Community on Facebook Live each day at 9p ET (and 11a ET on Sundays). 

Download the Hallow app to join the #Pray40 community and journey with others through this desert of uncertainty together. Despite these strange times, we at DeSales pray your Lent continues to be a holy journey through the desert with Jesus. And that Christ, the Great Physician, keeps you and yours in good health and happiness!

Unleash the Gospel with Edmundo Reyes

Posted on Mar 9, 2020

DeSales Media is working to bring new tools to diocesan communications departments throughout the country. One of the dioceses that has blown us away with its holistic program of digital and personal evangelization is the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

Their evangelization movement, Unleash the Gospel, works to bring out the hope and faith of the faithful in the diocese, to create a positive spirit and image around Catholicism in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This positive spirit is a burst of fresh life not only to the Archdiocese but beyond. 

To tap into the positive spirit, DeSales teamed up with the Archdiocese’s Communications Team to host the first-ever Catholic Leadership Summit entitled “Marketing for the Church.” Our idea was to get some of the most innovative thinkers of the church in America together in a room to discuss what’s working and what’s not, how to troubleshoot, and how to collaborate going forward.

We’re grateful for its success. Because of the summit, tangible collaborations have kicked off, a renewed spirit of missionary discipleship is rekindled, and we’re already thinking about planning for next year.

We sat down to talk down with Edmundo Reyes, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Edmundo’s energy and enthusiasm are absolutely infectious.

Edmundo has been with the Archdiocese of Detroit as the Director of Communications for almost two years now. Anyone who sits down for even a brief conversation with Edmundo can see that he is full of missionary spirit and zeal for the work of spreading God’s word in the diocese. Edmundo shares with us some insights from the Archdiocese of Detroit’s initiative to unleash a new Pentecost in their diocese and become a more dynamic, outward-facing Church.

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DeSales Media: How did Unleash the Gospel begin? What was its origin point?

Edmundo Reyes: Unleash the Gospel is a movement that had its origins in March of 2014 with the announcement of a Year of Prayer in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This Year of Prayer was announced in preparation for Synod 16. 

The archdiocese had been closing parishes, so we responded with prayer and a syond. We took a full year to pray for a new Pentecost, a renewal of faith, in the diocese. Over the course of the year leading up to Synod 16, we had Talking and Listening sessions with laypeople and clergy all over the archdiocese.

After learning from and listening to our diocesan members over the course of the year, Archbishop Vigneron published the initial pastoral letter “Unleash the Gospel” in June 2017. 

DS: What prompted this year of prayer and pastoral letter?

ER: We saw the archdiocese needed to move from maintenance to mission. The natural state of a diocese ought to be one of growth—not maintenance, but growth—if we’re not growing, expanding, spreading the Gospel, we’re not doing what God asked us to do.

An important milestone in our movement was the Mass for Pardon. We asked forgiveness as a community, for pardon for the institutional sins of the Catholic Church in Detroit. It wouldn’t have been possible for us to move into this mission phase without these two events—the year of prayer and the Mass for Pardon. Our movement is not based on ingenuity and savviness, but on the work of God. We depend upon the work of God to do the work of the diocese.

DS: And then how was the full movement of Unleash the Gospel born?

ER: We call the pastoral letter a “roadmap of the missionary confirmation.” It’s not just a strategic plan, but a roadmap and a call. Unleash the Gospel is a movement that we join: there are no bystanders—everyone needs to do their part in this mission. And there’s work that needs to be done right now.  We wanted to change the narrative of the diocese, and this letter created a roadmap to health for the diocese.

We want to build a movement of people who care so deeply that they are willing to do something. The letter was not just about amplifying the work of the archbishop but a call to build a movement. The letter articulated our core principles. To build a movement, you need to start from these core principles to gain momentum. You build a movement from the center out. You start from the center, from people who are already tuned in and move from there. 

Our movement, our second Pentecost, is modeled off of the first Pentecost. If we want to ignite a new Pentecost, we have to grow it organically. We have to invest in the people already in the movement and then deploy them to reach out to the broader community.

DS: What were some key communications strategies to launch this movement?

ER: One thing we emphasize is that vocabulary matters, semantics matter. When we talk about the pastoral letter, we talk about it as a roadmap. Think of the difference between the phrases “document implemented” versus a “roadmap for a movement.” One is dynamic, directional, and motivational. The other is sterile and formal—it lacks direction.

In November 2018, we launched Detroit Catholic, the Catholic newspaper for the diocese. In January 2019, we turned Detroit Catholic into an online-only news site. And, in January 2019, we launched Unleash the Gospel Magazine.

DS: Why the switch to the magazine?

ER: Detroit Catholic is a news site, and Unleash the Gospel magazine is a lifestyle publication. We wanted to create the Unleash the Gospel magazine as a lifestyle publication for the wider Unleash the Gospel brand. 

We think of a “brand” as communication that moves across channels—the newsletter, social media, website, and magazine. We have built infrastructures to develop the brands and execute them across different channels. We distribute the 90,000 magazines in the archdiocese (which we print every two months). The core lifestyle identity that we’re promoting is that of a joyful missionary disciple.

DS: How did you think about “branding” or “rebranding” the diocese?

ER: We created a brand framework just the way consumer products develop brands. A brand is not just a product. People get tattoos of their favorite brands, not because they just love their products, but because these brands are emblematic of a certain identity, community or lifestyle. So we wanted to present Catholicism as a lifestyle brand. Catholic identity is not a product you can buy, it’s a way of life that gives you something—an identity and a community—but asks something of you.

Everything in our digital spaces, our social media and our online magazine promote our brand identity—being a joyful missionary disciple. 

DS: What are some core principles of lifestyle branding?

ER: Lifestyle branding is made of four key components: identity, community, practical advice, and inspiration/aspiration. For example, when I was living in Minneapolis, I watched a friend run a marathon, and I told my wife afterward that I wanted to run a marathon. In order to do this, I had to start from scratch, as I was not a runner. So I subscribed to Runner’s World

Runner’s World offered identity—being a runner. The magazine never includes the word “jogging.” Semantics matter, the vocabulary you use to talk about yourself definitely matters. Second, Runner’s World creates a community of readers and subscribers joined around one common interest. Third, it offered practical advice to equip you with the practical needs that you need to become that identity. So, for Runner’s World, I learned how to get shoes, training, cool down, and what to eat. Finally, perhaps most importantly, it provides inspiration for aspirational new goals.

DS: Who is the core audience for Unleash the Gospel?

ER: Unleash the Gospel is the “big umbrella brand” for the movement. The UTG magazine is our channel for reaching the core members of the movement. We see families as core of the movement rather than parish professionals or ministers, because they are the lifeblood of the new evangelization. Our magazine is designed to reach families and the “domestic church” in the archdiocese.

For 2020, we’ve launched 52 Sundays, a dynamic guide that helps families reclaim the Lord’s Day with prayers, suggested family activities, recipes for Sunday dinner, and more.

DS: What would you recommend to other dioceses seeking to emulate your success?

ER: First: we always begin in prayer and humility. We do this for the glory of God. Second, we all need to up our game. The expectations of the American public for media they consume are high. We cannot afford to be mediocre. If we want to get the attention of our parishes, our diocese, of the wider public, we have to put out a product that looks slick, professional, and communicates our serious, high standards. 

The thing about the Church in the twenty-first century is that we’re competing for people’s attention, and we’re competing against people’s attention. The competition is selling lifestyles. We could be the best diocese in the country, but we’re competing with the professional lifestyle brands of top clothing brands, car companies, or tech companies. There’s so much thrown at people all the time that our message and brand need to stand out.

Because of this, we need to create products of the highest professional quality. There’s so much being thrown at people all the time. We have to create something that is consistent and professional. They’re selling them lifestyles, but we’re giving them something more.

So, our strategy is simple. We work hard to put out good work. We can only do that if we’re investing the numbers in this work, if we’re committing to it financially. We have, to my understanding, the largest team of marketing professionals of any diocese in the country. We changed our hiring policy to start hiring specialists, rather than generalists. Instead of having a small team of generalists, we have a large team of highly specialized workers. We needed expertise rather than general knowledge.

If you have a smaller team, that doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. Just do less—and do it really well. A small output from your diocese’s communications office that is really well done is better than a lot of content that is mediocre. That said, we communicate our own values to others by how we do things. There definitely needs to be an investment from leadership that matches the investment of our time and resources. I see very few dioceses investing in marketing in a significant way.

Finally, we need to not be afraid of change or failure. We need more courage in our dioceses to be bold and innovative, and trust that God will provide and guide, to operate less with fear, and more with apostolic boldness.

 

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We’re grateful to Edmundo for his time and for sitting down to talk with us. We highly recommend you explore Unleash the Gospel’s spectacular website and get inspired to start a movement of your own!

 

All images courtesy of Unleash the Gospel/Archdiocese of Detroit

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Preparing Our Hearts for Lent at DeSales

Posted on Feb 24, 2020

Ash Wednesday Woman Lent

 

By Renée Roden

It may seem like Christmas just passed, but Lent is now upon us—Ash Wednesday is just two short days away!

If you’re looking for ways to grow in faith and prepare your heart for Easter throughout the forty days of Lent, or if you’re looking for some needed inspiration for Lenten disciplines or resolutions: read on.

Do Nothing

Our friends at the Jesuit Post recently wrote a post recommending “doing nothing” for Lent.

But how to “do nothing?”

“Doing nothing” doesn’t mean procrastinating or spending time in sweatpants on the couch with video games. Rather, “doing nothing” means making some space in our day to be quiet. In a way, “doing nothing” is making a tithe of our time to give back to God. We don’t have to cram every minute of our days with “doing”; we can save some of it for just “being.”

The other day, I was walking from store to store running errands. There were long lines at each store, and I spent most of my time in line sweating with impatience and tapping my foot.

While sweating and balancing groceries in the Whole Foods line, I thought of that exhortation to “do nothing.”

While it’s definitely annoying when we’re held up by unexpected obstacles or things going slower than planned, I realized that my frustration, rather than the wait itself, was really what was causing me to “waste time.”

It can be hard to see our time as a gift from God and not simply as twenty-four hours for our own personal use. But when I start seeing my time as a gift, I can accept an unexpected interruption with patience and gratitude.

Sometimes “doing nothing” means being okay with wasting time, or going more slowly than expected. It can mean allowing ourselves to be interrupted, taking an extra few minutes for prayer, or slowing down to have time to really listen to our family and friends.

This Lent, I’m hoping to grow in gratitude—for the time that I get each day, even if that time ends up going in a way I didn’t plan. Through treating all my time as a gift, I can practice accepting sometimes “wasting time” or “doing nothing” with God.

Study Up!

As a season of preparation and repentance, Lent is an excellent time to brush up on your Catholic book smarts. As we grow closer to Christ on our walk of faith, we both have to foster a relationship with God in prayer and also a mature understanding of the core beliefs of our faith.

You could read an encyclical, join a scripture study, attend a theology on tap series, or pick up some extra spiritual reading.

Lent is also a great time to engage young children in the stories of the Bible that are being lived out on a macro scale, as we journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Children can follow the Exodus narrative that tells the story of Passover and read the stories of Christ’s Passion in the Gospels.

To promote this liturgical living among young students in the Diocese of Brooklyn, DeSales’ Catholic Telemedia Network is providing a rich resource of educational videos to the parish schools and Catholic academies throughout the diocese.

These videos explain Christ’s Paschal Mystery (or Passion), the reason for the season. It offers lessons on parables of repentance and forgiveness, Lenten imagery, and offers age-appropriate ideas for Lenten disciplines.

It’s a great reminder that as we grow in our faith and as we gain new knowledge of our faith, we need to pass it on to others and pay it forward—especially to the younger members of our Church!

Grow in Love

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

If you grew up Catholic, that’s a common question you’re probably pretty used to answering. Sometimes we can get so used to it, however, that we forget the reason we do it.

Lenten disciplines aren’t about punishing ourselves, and they aren’t about dieting, self-actualization, or achieving fitness goals. Our Lenten sacrifices are made to grow in love of God and in love of our neighbor.

Stripping our lives of some day-to-day comfort: music in the car—Netflix before bed, dessert after dinner—disrupts our hearts and minds and jolts us into a new awareness. The goal is that, over 40 days, we let that new awareness lead us to pay more attention to God speaking to us throughout the day and to the people around us who need our patience, love, and kindness.

As Dave pointed out in our last post on the DeSales Exodus 90 Fraternity, the goal of the Exodus 90 program is not to make extreme sacrifices in order to become stronger or tougher. The goal of the program is to free the participants so that they can find more joy in their friendships and community—so that they can love better. The goal of asceticism is always love.

I asked some of the DeSales team what their Lenten practices were going to be this year. As you can see below, their answers are heartfelt and inspirational examples of striving to love God and others. Hopefully some of their practices can inspire you as you set your own!

“During Lent, to help me grow closer to God and break free from specific sins I struggle with, I give up wearing makeup, worrying, and meat.”

Alexandra Piña, Senior Manager, Programming

“Each Lent, I coach a Little League Team. The kids are the cutest; I love my little friends.”

Katie Tamola, Social Media Manager

(Watch Katie in action and learn more about Peter Stuyvesant Little League here!)

“Throughout Lent, I want to give up my ego by practicing a different way of being humble each day. And I’ll be keeping my prayer life strong by participating in Hallow App’s Lenten Prayer Challenge, #Pray40.”

Dave Plisky, Director of Product & Innovation

“Not judging. While I don’t consider myself a judgmental person, it’s pretty amazing to realize that some even day-to-day thoughts/words/interactions can be rooted in the judgment of others. It’s an exercise in being more mindful of my words and thoughts.”

Tricia Ang, Account Supervisor

“This year, thanks to the Exodus 90 program, in which I’m already abstaining from meat and alcohol, my approach will be “to give” something. Probably giving my time (of which I’m really jealous), by helping out or volunteering more.”

Israel Ochoa, Creative Manager

“I give up coffee every Lenten season (not having my morning coffee is a sacrifice), and dealing with me without my morning coffee is worse. I’ve done it for the past few years. On Easter, I get back to drinking coffee, forget to have decaf, and can’t sleep Easter night. Happens every year!”

JoAnn DiNapoli, Director of Sales

Here’s to growing in love this Lentlove for our families, coworkers, neighbors, and for God.