Cristonauta, a theme park that uses high tech to spread Christianity

A young man uses a virtual reality equipment on Jan. 19, 2019, at the "Cristonauta" theme park before the World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama. EPA-EFE / Welcome Velasco

A young man uses a virtual reality equipment on Jan. 19, 2019, at the “Cristonauta” theme park before the World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama. EPA-EFE / Welcome Velasco


The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden in 3D and the miracles of Jesus in virtual reality are the main attractions of “Cristonauta,” a theme park that was established in Panama for the visit of Pope Francis to the Central American country and that seeks to spread the word of God through new technologies.

“Instead of reading the Gospel, young people will see it in 3D, 4D and (in virtual) reality. These are the new languages out there and we have to speak to reach young people,” the park’s deputy coordinator, Mexican Hugo Flores, told EFE.

“Ramon Pane, a monk who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second trip, learned an indigenous language to spread the Gospel in America and now it’s up to us to become technological to reach the places we can’t get to otherwise,” Flores said.

Cristonauta, which covers 1,300 square meters (4,265 square foot) in the central Omar Park, is the key element of this year’s World Youth Day (WYD), which began on Tuesday in Panama and includes the participation of Pope Francis.

The expected arrival of the pontiff, scheduled to land Wednesday afternoon in Panama, has generated great expectations not only here but throughout Central America, a region that for the first time in history has been chosen to host WYD and that has been visited so far only by one pontiff: Pope Juan Paul II.

Young people who visit Cristonauta will be able to experience biblical times and get to know some of the miracles Jesus performed, such as converting water into wine or bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Visitors can also sing karaoke with the Archangel Gabriel using the so-called movement-recognition “Kinect” technology.

“It’s great, as if you were inside the Bible,” Venezuelan Rebeca Robinson told EFE, after removing one of the 75 virtual-reality pairs of glasses at the park.

“I felt closer to Jesus. This wraparound video is a total immersion into his miracles,” said Efrain Montenegro, a young Panamanian.

In addition to the theme park, this edition of WYD has incorporated the augmented reality videogame “Follow JC Go,” which was launched last October and is considered the Catholic version of the famous “Pokemon Go.”

“Young people download the application and look for saints, blessed figures and Marian devotions around the streets. It’s like Pokemon Go, but ... every time a character is found you have to answer questions about him or her,” said the theme park’s assistant coordinator.

Francis, who is the second pope to be active on Twitter - after his predecessor Benedict XVI - and whose Twitter profile currently has more than 17 million followers, was the first player to register for Follow JC Go.

The pontiff, who has said that “the Internet is a gift from God,” also recently opened a profile within the “Click To Pray” app, which will be the official prayer platform of WYD and where Francis will share his prayers and users will be able to send messages to him.

“The pope and the Church have realized that we cannot remain at the end of the train. It’s important to be up-to-date because young people all day long are on the social networks and attached to their cell phones and computers,” Spanish priest Antonio Carpena, who considers Francis to be a “modern” pope, told EFE.

According to the most recent Vatican data, Catholics around the world numbered 1.3 billion in 2016 - an increase of 1.1 percent over 2015 - with the Americas being the zone with the largest number of faithful, followed by Europe.

“You have to be modern and at the same time remain faithful to Jesus. These are not exclusive of one another. There are people who believe that being modern is to separate oneself from the message of Jesus and that isn’t the case here,” said the Spanish priest. (today, a news portal focusing on papal and Vatican activities, was the first digital foray by the Catholic Church in 2009, followed by a profile on Facebook and nine @Pontifex accounts, each one in a different language, along with accounts on Instagram ( and on Snapchat (Holy See).