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Woofs and wifi: Is this world's coolest church?

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Woofs and wifi: Is this world's coolest church?
San Antón church in Madrid offers free wifi. Photo: Sara Houlison.
14:52 CEST+02:00
Nestled among the trendy cafes and shops of Madrid's Chueca neighbourhood is a church like no other, where you can browse the internet, confess via your iPad and bring along your pet poodle. Is San Anton the coolest church in the world?

San Anton is a 21st century church, excitedly embracing modern technology to make itself as welcoming as possible, to parishioners both of the human and animal variety.

Hallelujah! Spanish priest sings like an angel 

It has recently rolled out a range of new technological measures, including free wifi, live-streams on huge wide screen televisions and a special confession App. Not content with pushing tech boundaries, the church is also unique in welcoming animals, encouraging visitors to bring their four-legged friends along to mass.

A sign outside the church declares free wifi, pets welcome and open 24 hours. Photo: Sara Houlison

The first thing that strikes you on entering the Catholic church are the signs proclaiming "free wifi", more at home in one of the barrio's coffee shops than in a place of worship. The pews are surrounded by wide-screen televisions, when The Local visited, featuring a live-stream from Rome:

"We feature live-streams from the Vatican, religious films and reports," the church's caretaker, holding a television remote control, told The Local.

One of the church's tech highlights is an iPad app to help the deaf and hard of hearing go to confession. People can type out their confession and receive a typed answer from the priest, eliminating any embarrassment that could arise from having to shout.

The new technological measures were rolled out in the church last month, when the Archbishop of Madrid appointed the "Messengers of Peace" (Mensajeros de la Paz) foundation to handle the day to day running.

"The changes are part of a new attitude of openness, of welcoming people," Brother Marco, a Franciscan monk affiliated with the church, told The Local.

"We want people to feel welcome," he beamed. 

Brother Marco, in Iglesia San Antón, Madrid. Photo: Sara Houlison/The Local 

In keeping with his modern surroundings, Brother Marco is a modern monk; well-travelled, he has worked around the world, from the USA and Japan to Rome, but has never come across a church quite like San Anton.

"When you enter most churches you are met with signs telling you not do things: 'silence', 'no pets', for example, whereas here, our signs are much more welcoming," he added.

He points to the church door, where a sign announcing "pets are welcome" hangs

"For many people these days their pet is their only friend," says Marco. "We are trying to take a different attitude towards pets; they are more than simply animals, they are one of the family."

"This is the only church in the world like this," Marco said. "It is unique."

Despite embracing modern technology, the church still offers simple comforts alongside its apps and big screens. A little table is set up near the entrance with free tea and coffee, for anyone who would like a warm drink. Visitors are welcome to stay for as long as they like, at any time of day.

And what about the locals; are older Spaniards less inclined to embrace San Anton's more modern outlook? 

"It's fantastic," said Rosa, a middle-aged parishioner using one of the newly installed machines that allows people to make donations, "if the church can help those that really need, it's stupendous."

Users put five euros in the machines and receive a box telling them they have just donated five kilos of rice to the poor, in yet another of San Anton's new tech ventures.

As part of its determination to welcome everyone, San Anton is thinking about offering a mass on a Sunday in English for tourists and residents in Madrid.

Perhaps such measures will help reverse the dramatic loss of faith in the traditionally Roman Catholic nation. In a recent survey more than half of Spaniards admitted that they were "not religious" with one in five insisting that they were "confirmed atheists".

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