AI in the Ministry of the Consecrated Persons

AI is steadily entering ministry in the Christian fold and other faith traditions. AI chatbots have become tools of evangelization. They give personalized answer to the queries of people who are interested in Christian faith. The role of religious as primarily evangelizers seem to be steadily taken over by AI. It is not really so. Religious will still have a role of prompting AI into work. The large language models that are used by AI to give their answers are produced by humans. In fact, AI is plagiarising the data available on the internet without indicating the sources of their content, raising ethical issues. When we have crises of numbers due to fall of vocations, maybe religious societies will take up AI as assistants in their ministry. AI can only be an assistant and cannot be real ministers as they are soulless and spirit-less. They may generate best content for preaching but they still need to be supervised. They merely mimic prayer but will not be able to pray. They cannot be open to the Holy Spirit but will only work in accordance to the algorithm that is controlling them. Besides, AI may not be able to empathize with the people. Hence, even if they have the best advice to people struggling with pains of life, their advice may not be effective. Religious, therefore, will still have a role to play in guiding and accompanying people.

In several ways AI can come to assist religious and priestly ministry especially in administrative matters. AI can assist in producing meeting transcriptions, translations, summarization, voice in -speech-to-text dictation and task assignments. AI can help in content creation or its refinement like grammar checks etc. AI can generate videos for faith instructions, images for flyers, Church bulletins, sermon slides, certificates, book marks and more. AI can become a bridge of communication between the people and the ministers facilitating sick calls, distress calls and pastoral visitations. Thus, in several ways AI can come to enhance religious life. They can assist in planning out-reach projects, brainstorm for ideas, and even assist understanding complex ideas. This is why several proactive religious may be ready to unlock the power of AI in their ministry and open new possibilities of reaching out to people. In all this, AI does need human assistance. Human users (religious in this context) will still have to prompt, edit and finalize the finished product. Vatican authorities also admit that the fusion of religion and AI is an opportunity for evangelization.

AI does open great opportunities to open virtual ministries. It can amplify communication and out-reach. They can also enable ministers and religious to reach out to people in their own mother tongue. AI translators can bring about personalized communication to all people in a particular area in their own language. Of course, this communication cannot be perfect as we know that AI may not get the cultural and linguistic nuances and, therefore, may not be sensitive enough. Along with all these opportunities that AI will offer, there is another important side that AI will produce. It will displace a lot of people from their jobs. Several people will be made job-less. This people will need pastoral care and hence, the ministry of the priests and religious have to cater to this new area of pastoral care. Indeed, theology as well as philosophy will have to build visions that will address what it means to be human in a world dominated by AI. Besides, there are several questions raised by AI. Even those that built them are relying on religious people to guide them to understand ‘what is consciousness?’ as well as develop ethics for the use of AI.

Pope Francis has given a clarion call for a Person-centered AI. His holiness has placed a plea to put human person at the center of this technology. Hence, the mission of the religious acquires new dimension in the Church. AI is now part of this mission. During a conference on AI an ethics at the Vatican, His Holiness urged the developers of AI to ensure that discriminatory use of the intelligent machine does not take root at the expense of the most fragile and the excluded and gave an example of AI making visa decision for asylum- seekers based on generalized data. The Pope added that it was not acceptable that decision about someone’s life and future be entrusted to an algorithm. Therefore, there is need of responsible use of AI. Hence, the field is open for the religious in the Church to contribute to the same. The spiritual experience of the religious person has a witnessing power. People will still need religious people and not AI that have no spiritual experience. Although, AI is a disruptive technology and will disrupt several things in the Church, the religious in the church have the challenge to respond to the signs of the time and assist the Church to whether the storm and thus enable the Church to create a condition to let AI be used for the good and flourishing of humanity and our planet earth. AI is set to became a great resource that will provide extraordinary opportunities for good or bad. The religious can make it as part of their mission to bring AI to the feet of Christ and thus work to establish the kingdom of God in a world driven by AI. This is why maybe we may need religious to enter the technical studies of AI as well as acquire the skills of prompt engineering so that AI can be put to optimum use of their ministry.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao