Michael Kaczmarek and Charlie Wedel are the creators of Our Praybook, a social networking site for those with faith. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CYBERSPACE — While it can be argued that social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have become tools for the narcissistic, a pair of Santa Monica residents with a strong connection with God have used the technology to create a community comprised of altruistic followers using the power of prayer to help others.

Known as Our Praybook(http://ourpraybook.com/), the ecumenical site is completely free for people to join. It encourages members, or “ePostles,” to share prayer petitions as well as to pray for the health, safety and well-being of others in a way that is similar to updating one’s status on Facebook. The prayers are shared on the “Love Stream,” allowing other ePostles the opportunity to read and pray for them as well.

“I was inspired to create an online social hub for all people alike, to come together and pray,” said Charlie Wedel, 26, the developer of Our Praybook. “Since status updates and tweets are so popular right now, we thought it would be cool to create a social network to engage people in prayer where instead of updating your status, you’re updating your prayer intentions. Sharing prayers is so much more powerful than simply sharing a random thought.”

Wedel, who was raised Catholic and said he finds himself praying more now that he created the site, launched Our Praybook a little over a month ago with his friend, Michael Kaczmarek, 30, a Eucharistic minister at St. Monica’s Catholic Community. The site now has nearly 70 active members and adds anywhere from three to 10 per day.

“Whereas with other social networking sites, the door is open to interact socially in any way you please, and while that’s fine, we wanted to create a place where people could come and not just do what they like for themselves, but to come and pray for others,” Kaczmarek said. “Sometimes you just need that extra push to pray.”

Wedel, who began working on Our Praybook in February, runs the site out of his one-bedroom apartment. The two both have day jobs but have found time to dedicate to Our Praybook, as well as another site, Our Lady Prays (http://ourladyprays.com/) which was set up for people to share messages given by the Virgin Mary in her apparitions. They both give credit to friends and family for encouraging them to follow through with the idea.

The two are quick to point out that the site is open to people of all faiths. The goal is to create the largest community possible.

“As human beings we are all part of the human family, created by God …,” Kaczmarek said. “I think that prayer is the most important part of anyone’s day.”

In addition to posting prayers or favorite passages from religious texts, the site allows members to engage in live “Pray Chats” with others by using webcams and microphones. Members can also earn rewards for posting the most prayers. The site can be linked to Facebook and Twitter accounts and it can be access on most mobile devices, so ePostles can share a prayer any time, anywhere.

Members can also upload photos from church outings or other religious-related events and share links for spiritual growth.

One member, Nancy Dicken, posted Tuesday how she was praying for her husband in hopes that he could receive some help with his continued hearing loss and the Vietnam veteran’s struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Agent Orange-related illnesses.

“Thank you for holding Jim up before the throne and for answered prayers,” she posted.

Another ePostle, Charlene Stevens, wrote about her 16-year-old granddaughter and prayed that she find the right path following some hard times at home after her parents divorced.

“Agree with me that she will be protected and return to the Lord,” Stevens wrote.

Sister Maristela Testa, a pastoral care coordinator based out of the Archdiocese of New York, is another ePostle who has embraced the site, even though she never uses Facebook or other social networks or communicates via chat rooms.

“It is necessary to pray in the space of our minds and hearts, in churches, but we live in a changing world and this social cyberspace is necessary to witness the power of prayer, the power of witness in what is good, necessary, right,” she said.

“Living in this era of fast everything, people need a ‘fast way to pray’ and Our Praybook can become a community of prayer.”


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