Filipino Catholics find joy, comfort in AI in strengthening faith

Filipino Catholics find joy, comfort in AI in strengthening faith
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MICHAEL Bulawan, 37, is a busy family man of three children.

When he is not active in going to church due to his hectic work schedule, Bulawan finds time to keep in touch with the words of God through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on his computer and mobile phone.

“When I am on my job and I need to do my spiritual study, I check on AI to help me explain some Bible passages,” says Bulawan, who works as a public high school teacher from Monday to Friday and takes up post-graduate studies during weekends.

When his work and studies got in the way of his Sunday mass obligation, Bulawan, who is a resident of Inopacan town in the Eastern Visayas region of the central Philippines, found comfort in AI and other religious websites to keep his Catholic faith intact.

The same sentiment also goes with Aiene Molina, 37, a devout Catholic from Sta. Fe town in Leyte province.

When she could not make it on time for her church activities due to her work as a teacher, Molina found joy in tapping her phone, prompting the popular AI site Chat GPT to help her understand some Bible verses.

Whether it is about translation, analysis, and reflection on Scriptural entries, Molina is “thankful for AI’s presence.”

Father Amado Picardal, a retired Redemptorist priest and former executive secretary of Basic Ecclesial Communities under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, admits that while there is a lot of talk nowadays about generative Artificial Intelligence or AI, he urges the public “to learn to enjoy the benefits it brings and be aware of the risks and dangers it brings.”

“I am just starting to learn how to use it. I already posted a few gospel reflections generated by AI,” Picardal told Sunstar Philippines.

The 69-year-old hermit priest even felt the pride of posting his AI-generated gospel thoughts in his latest social media post on May 12, 2024.

“I am encouraging my friends to make use of it to assist them in understanding the Gospel. How to live it in their daily lives depends on them,” says Picardal, who has been in the church ministry for the past 43 years.

While he urged others to use AI, he maintains that one needs “open-mindedness and at the same time caution of its risks” in doing so. “It is a tool which can be used for good and for destruction,” Picardal says.

However, he says that he has yet to get much feedback from his AI-generated gospel reflection he posted on his Facebook account.

“I am just starting,” he says.

AI-inspired homilies

In a report from the Catholic news site UCA News, Picardal reiterates that both the faithful and church workers can benefit when they adopt AI technology for their spiritual growth.

“AI can help the priest or deacon in preparing his homily. AI chatbots can come up with commentaries and reflections on the readings of the Mass. It can also suggest ideas or themes to focus on,” says Picardal.

“However, he should not preach a homily generated by AI which is usually based on homilies posted by other priests on the internet. Each homily should be based on the particular local context of the hearers and address their situation and concerns,” he adds.

Another way AI can also help laypeople to actively participate in the liturgical celebration includes understanding the readings for Masses that they are attending as well as the liturgical feasts and seasons and providing methods for personal prayer and meditation.

“It is a tool for evangelization and catechesis. This will democratize knowledge and not make them dependent on priests and experts,” he adds.

One of Picardal’s personal favorites about AI is how it can translate English text to Philippine local languages like Cebuano and Tagalog, and vice versa.

Once he got the translation through the assistance of AI, Picardal enthusiastically shared it on his Facebook account.

As people now live in the age of AI, Picardal believes that “within this decade and in the years to come AI is going to radically change the world and dominate all aspects of life including the religious sphere.”

For the Church’s prophetic and evangelizing mission, Picardal lectures that AI platforms like ChatGPT and Copilot have access to vast data on the internet including biblical resources, Church documents, theological works, etc.

“It is more than a highly advanced search engine since it can quickly and systematically summarize, analyze, and simplify any philosophical, biblical, theological, and catechetical topic. Thus, AI can answer quickly and simply any question about the bible, Christian faith, Church teachings, etc.,” he says.

Picardal, however, reminds us that the use of AI should be grounded on the principles of the common good, human dignity, and transparency.

“For AI to be useful, its use has to be promoted and the clergy, religious, and laity should learn how to make use of it. While keeping an open mind we have to be constantly critical-minded and not allow AI to dominate us,” he says.

Downsides of AI

Pope Francis has admitted that AI “is radically affecting the world of information and communication, and through it, certain foundations of life in society.”

“These changes affect everyone,” the pontiff said in his message for the 2024 World Day of Social Communications, whose theme was: “Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a Fully Human Communication.”

Pope Francis cautioned the people on AI’s pitfalls, saying: “At this time in history, which risks becoming rich in technology and poor in humanity, our reflections must begin with the human heart.”

The Pope, whose deepfake photo in a puffer jacket circulated on social media in 2023, warned that technology can become “perverse when it distorts our relationship with others and with reality.”

For Molina, she agrees that the application of AI by humans will decide whether it's beneficial or detrimental to humans.

The schoolteacher is now encouraging her two children, aged 17 and 14, to use AI to study the scriptures when she cannot answer their questions.

“It helps us all a lot, especially in making things clearer, grasping the deeper meaning of some biblical terms and characters,” Molina says. (SunStar Philippines)

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