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Tap and pray: Paris church introduces contactless contributions

Eric Robert | A contactless collection basket in Paris’s Saint-François de Molitor church.

The Catholic Church has gone contactless in one parish in Paris: now you can simply touch your credit card to donate.


On Sunday, the Saint-François de Molitor church in Paris's 16th arrondissement launched an innovative new technology to transform the old-fashioned wicker basket into a contactless payment terminal.

Five new high-tech baskets debuted at its 10.15am service. The 500-seater church is very modern, rebuilt in 2005 to reflect a changing community. On this Sunday morning, it was full of families, with children everywhere.

The mass proceeded as usual, with all of the congregation singing in full voice, until it reached the point of the liturgy for the collection. The celebrant, Father Didier Duverne, explained that there was a change this week, that people could choose to contribute either in the traditional manner with cash or to use one of the new cashless baskets.

The new digital basket maintains the traditional appearance of a wicker basket. Under a hard plastic cover there is a Vivopay machine connected to a Samsung mobile phone. There are holes cut out in the plastic exposing their screens.

The telephone asks how much you'd like to give, with options ranging from €2 to €10. You press your desired amount and then scan your card over the Vivopay. A little beep sounds one second later and a message appears on the screen to thank you for your offering. It takes 24 hours to be debited from your account. There is no time (or paper) wasted with receipts being printed out; you can simply pass the basket on to the next person.

In Saint-François de Molitor, after a small flurry of excitement, the baskets circulated without much fuss and most people chose to donate with old-fashioned cash.

“The collection was fast in this mass. There were lots of children in the congregation and they don’t have credit cards yet,” said co-celebrant Father François Diacre after the mass. “I do think this is a good idea. People don’t always have loose change these days.”

Handmade digital baskets

This new system is very much at a prototype stage. Only five baskets have been made and they have been put together by hand. If the scheme is successful, it will be rolled out into more churches around Paris, said Christophe Rousselot, director of financial development in the Paris diocese.

“We will test it out here for a few weeks or possibly months and then see about extending it. If it does take off, we will need to develop the equipment and mass produce.”

This contactless concept is not a mercenary one to get more money from parishioners. Instead, it is simply to facilitate them in a world that is increasingly cash-free.

As one older parishioner said, “This is modernity. It is important for the church to stay up to date. Younger people don’t always have coins in their pockets on Sunday mornings. And there are times when I have realised I don't have any money on the way to mass and have to run to the bank machine.”

Card payments have overtaken cash payments in shops and now contactless payments are making up a sizeable portion of all purchases. But habits are changing and church contributions are dropping.

With 120 parishes, the Catholic Church in Paris is one of the biggest diocese in Europe. It became something of a trailblazer in religious technology when it introduced an app called La Quete for online collection in eight parishes in October 2016. Almost 4,000 donations have been made via the app in the past 14 months by more than 300 parishioners, donating an average of €5 each time.

According to Rousselot, there were two reasons why this particular parish in this affluent and conservative area was chosen to test run the digital baskets. “The physical shape of the church was an important consideration: it is small and there is much room for movement between the seats. This makes it very easy to circulate the different types of baskets, to offer choice. And crucially the priest here, Father Duverne, was also willing to participate. He knew his congregation would be happy to be part of this.”

Rousselot also confirmed that there is interest in these baskets from abroad. “We have already had enquiries from British church officials. Who knows where this will go.”

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