Recruiting Priests With Slick Movie Ad

The images are based on the 18-minute film "Fishers of Men," which was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2006 to use as a resource in a national recruitment project.

The project — which portrays priests in all facets of daily life — was intended to renew priests' "sense of fulfillment in their vocation" and to invite other men to pursue the priesthood, the church says.

The project's research had shown that 78 percent of ordained seminarians had been asked by a priest to consider the vocation.

"We were happy to help," said Joe Campo of Brooklyn-based Grassroots Films, who produced the trailer. "It's an upbeat look. Most people have their own views or bad views of the priesthood."

The campaign comes at a difficult time for the church, which was rocked by a clergy sex abuse scandal that began in 2002. But church officials say the priest shortage began long before that.

Impact of Scandal

"The scandal has an impact, of course," said Sweeney. "But in this society, where instant gratification is the norm and rule, the willingness to embrace a life of celibacy and willingness to give something good for the greater good is not easy," he said. "The main problem is one of spirituality and faith."

The publication Catholic World reported in 2006 that the New York is 167th of an estimated 190 archdioceses in the ratio of seminarians to the Catholic population, according to Sweeney.

The New York Archdiocese is hoping a modern approach might help turn the tide, even though a church study showed men being ordained were influenced primarily by other priests, not Web sites or advertisements.

Some who have viewed the trailer question whether a movie theater is the right venue.

"I can't imagine it would make you join the ranks," said one 29-year-old who had been raised a Catholic. "The priesthood is a lifelong calling, and I don't see how a 60-second ad can convince you to take that step in life."

Still, she said, the ad "stood out" and was "surprising" and "powerful."

Sweeney defends this direct approach. "Before we can get a young man to consider a vocation, we need to sell the priesthood first," he said. "If we don't ask a young man to consider the possibility of the priesthood, why should he consider it?"

The archdiocese is also using tools like YouTube to paint a picture of priests as real men. A video of seminarians playing soccer to the sound track of the Rolling Stones has drawn 64 viewers in the last two weeks.

The church is also targeting parents, who are less eager to encourage their sons to enter the priesthood.

"Parents can either be a great asset or a great challenge," said Sweeney, 33. "Many times we hear the mantra, 'I don't want my son to be a priest.' They are immediately biased in their mind-set."

Spirituality is based in the family, according to Sweeney, whose own journey began in the fifth grade.

Growing up in Irvington, N.Y., he rejected his pastor's first offer to enter the priesthood, and was torn between being an astronaut or a priest. One year later, the latter held more sway.

"I had a good, stable family who were devout, practiced their faith and were open to the idea of me becoming whatever I wanted," said Sweeney, who was ordained at 26.

Commitment, Sacrifice

"If a young person is not seeing family lived out in sacrifice, commitment and lifelong love, it's hard for them to imagine that in their own lives," he said.

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