Saturday, April 26, 2008

Roman Catholic priesthood 'is for real men', NY recruitment drive says

Pope Benedict XVI has added some old-fashioned holy star power to a slick new recruitment drive launched by the Roman Catholic Church in New York in an effort to reverse the dramatic drop in young men joining the priesthood.

The campaign draws on modern advertising techniques, the power of the internet and catchy slogans to counter the lures of the secular world.

Posters and commercials bearing messages such as "The World Needs Heroes" and "You Have to be a Real Man if you want to become a Priest" have been distributed at college sports games and in cinemas.

And during an exuberant youth rally attended by an estimated 30,000 Catholics from across the country, Pope Benedict issued his own personal appeal to America's young men to consider the merits of pursuing a vocation.

He was given a rapturous reception by the masses of young believers chanting his name at St Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, just outside New York City.

The pontiff recalling his own youth under the "sister regime" of Nazism and urged his audience to avoid the traps of drugs and materialism and to seek the truth about life.

"As young Americans you are offered many opportunities for personal development, and you are brought up with a sense of generosity, service and fairness," he said.

"Yet you do not need me to tell you that there are also difficulties: activities and mind-sets which stifle hope, pathways which seem to lead to happiness and fulfillment but in fact end only in confusion and fear."

His appearance was preceded by rock and pop performances headed by a former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Hundreds of seminarians danced excitedly to the music in their black cassocks.

During the celebration, videos extolling the merits of an ordained life, including footage of dashing priests on New York's mean streets, appeared on big screens, while clergy and seminarians from across the US took the chance to spread the word among the crowds.

St Joseph's own roll call tells the story of the shortage of new recruits to the priesthood in New York.

Hundreds once studied to become priests at the seminary, but nowadays its hallways and classrooms can be a lonely place. Just 60 men are currently studying there and only six will be ordained this year.

Church officials blame an increasingly secular and commercialised society for the long-term drop in young men seeking a vocation, but also acknowledge that the priest sex abuse scandal in America has exacerbated the decline.

And they have adopted some of the advertising practices of that culture - also available at www.nypriest.com - to put their own message across.

"We want to get material into and beyond the Catholic world, presenting the priesthood in a fully up-to-date manner to today's generation of young people and their families," said Fr Luke Sweeney, the director of vocations for the archdiocese.

"We are using these techniques to try to tap into a young man's heart and the desire for greatness that God places there, but that sometimes in the modern world gets pushed down by apathy and mediocrity."

But despite the deployment of such earthly tactics, Fr Sweeney is also praying for help from a higher plane.

"Ultimately, our campaign is based on prayer. The immediate returns might be small, but we hope we are planting the seeds for the future."

While the number of American Catholics rose from 45.6 million in 1965 to 64.4 million in 2007, the number of graduate-level seminarians fell from 8,325 to 3,274.
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