A Roman Catholic diocese in Austria is turning to some unusual methods to recruit priests by putting up advertisements on large billboards calling men and women to the clergy life.
The Lower Austrian diocese has positions open not only for priests, but also for nuns and part-time laymen, The Associated Press reported. The billboards themselves are pretty simple and feature a group of clergy people, both men and women, before a clear-sky country background. "Der Auftrag" is written in big letters at the top, which is German for "the order" or "the mission." The tagline reads: "Those who give all receive even more."
Catholic clergy and laypeople need to be depicted "as the heroes of everyday life – which they truly are, with so many different traits and skills," explained Lukas Leitner, whose advertising agency helped put up the religious billboards.
"From there we developed the concept to simply stage people of the church – priests and laymen – like in a blockbuster in a movie theater," he added.
While such unconventional methods for advertising is new for the church, the lack of interest in clergy positions reportedly has been stretching resources thin in Austria, and the Catholic diocese has decided that one way or another it needs to let people know about the availability of these jobs.
"The placards show real people ... who are joyfully working for the church and are ready to show it by putting their faces to the camera," added Klaus Kueng, St. Polten's bishop, after the billboard campaign was launched on Tuesday.
Catholicism remains the dominant religion in Austria, with 64 percent of the population declaring themselves part of the church – but like many other European nations, such associations can be better described as "in name only" rather than active members, according to local media.
Since 1960, the number of priests in Austria has dropped by 26 percent, and with the constant scandals inflicting the Vatican, that number does not currently appear to have potential of approving. The Associated Press noted that in St. Poelten, the capital of the Lower Austria province, only 224 priests remain, who have to serve 423 parishes. What is more, Austrian priests at large are over 60 and nearing retirement, while young people do not seem particularly drawn to the celibate church life.
The ambitious campaign in Lower Austria will make use of 80 large billboards along with 300 smaller electric placards that will hope to catch the attention of the region's 1.6 million population.