DENVER — A ringing cell phone during Mass can be a distraction, but cell phones can now be used in a prayerful way.

That, at least, is the hope of a new wireless service that provides Catholic content to mobile communications devices.

The initiative, by Catholic Mobile, distributes Scripture readings, daily prayers, and saints of the day via a text messaging service directly to a subscriber’s cell phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) or smart phone.

A PDA is a handheld device that can be used as a personal organizer, computer, calculator, clock, Internet portal, e-mailbox, radio or stereo, video recorder, address book and more. A smart phone is a mobile phone that integrates the functionality of a mobile phone, PDA or other information appliance.

Users will be able to personalize their phones by downloading Catholic “wallpaper” — the background one sees on the display screen — and ring tones.

“One of the core goals of the New Evangelization is to make Christian life daily life,” said Lima, Peru-based Alejandro Bermudez, a spokesman for the company. “Anything that helps you put and bring your faith to the very concrete and menial things you do every day is a great leap into making Christian life become daily life. … It’s definitely a way to carry your faith in your pocket, in a sense.”

The idea was hatched about two years ago, when Bermudez and some friends were discussing how relevant cell phones had become, especially in ways that went beyond voice communication, he said. People could download information, browse the Internet, exchange pictures and send text messages.

“I don’t think we were the only ones or the first ones to realize the mobile devices were becoming very significant as a tool to people, especially to the younger generation,” he said.

In fact, text messaging in particular, has been extremely popular in Asia and Europe for a while, but it has increased in popularity in the United States. According to a 2005 Pew Internet and American Life Project study, researchers found that 63% of young adults (ages 18-27) use text messaging on their cell phones. A recent Associated Press story on the text messaging fad started this way: “E-mail is so last millennium.”

The hope, Bermudez said, is that all ages in the marketplace will respond to the content, but he knows it may have particular resonance among young Catholics.

“If young Catholics have the opportunity to have their cell phones be an extension of their faith of what they are as Catholics, I think we are providing them tremendous resources to identify more ... with their Catholic identity,” he said.

Reaching ‘Anybody’

With all this in mind, Bermudez and others arranged partnerships with a Denver-based company, called JP2 Media, and a San Diego-based company called Missionaries of Faith Foundation to raise funds and gather experts. One of the biggest obstacles was a technological one: finding a company that could set up a system to distribute the content among the various cell phone carrier companies, he said.

Once Catholic Mobile found the company, called Digital Orchid, and worked through some glitches, it launched its products in mid-July in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Argentina. (Móvil Católico will offer the service in Spanish and Portuguese.) Users in Brazil, Spain and Australia will be able to access the content in early 2007.

“We’re trying to reach mostly Catholics, but also anybody who uses their cell phone beyond just voice communication,” said Bermudez. “Anybody.”

And what’s available?

" For $4.99 per topic, a user can receive a subscription of 28 messages per month (seven messages per week). The topics include the Gospel reading for that day, the saint of the day or a daily prayer.

" Users can pick and choose from those topics or the Catholic news of the day for 49 cents per message. All the content will be edited and provided by the Catholic News Agency, which is affiliated with ACI Prensa, a Catholic press organization in Latin America; Bermudez is its editor-in-chief (he’s also a Register correspondent).

" Ringtones, which range from “Amazing Grace” to “Ave Maria”: $1.99.

" Wallpaper, which includes images of popular saints: $1.99.

One Internet expert said that, because cell phones sometimes get more usage than desktops and are mobile, it makes sense to provide content there that people can use.

“If you have something that people will really respond to well, and it’s simple and can be presented cleanly on the mobile phone, then it’s a good idea, and it’s likely to be successful,” said Ned Desmond, president of Time Inc. Interactive, which oversees the digital businesses of Time Inc. “Hats off to the folks at Catholic Mobile for learning from the marketplace and adapting their particular mission to it so smartly.”

Alan Napleton, president of the Missionaries of Faith Foundation, which is one of Catholic Mobile’s partners, said it is extremely important for Catholics to be part of today’s digital marketplace.

“With the Catholic faith being such a part of the culture, and with the phone users, in general, personalizing their phones, we believe Catholic Mobile will be very successful in doing what our overall goal is, which is utilizing technology for the good of the Church.”

Carlos Briceño is based in

Seminole, Florida.