Jumping up and down, getting hit by chairs and telling girls they are fat is hardly the image of a Catholic preacher. But for Justin Fatica, a 29-year-old unordained priest and leader of a nonprofit called Hard as Nails Ministries, that is exactly the point.
Fatica targets teens with his preaching, and his methods of spreading his brand of the Catholic message have brought him both admiration and criticism.
Fatica said he found Christ at the age of 17, on a Saturday afternoon when he stepped out of confession. This moment planted the seeds for what he believes is his mission to grab the attention of young people and spread the Catholic faith. While he acknowledges that he is "not the smartest tool in the shed," he believes that he has been chosen to preach Catholicism to young people in this way.
A graduate of Seton Hall University, Fatica went on to teach at Catholic schools before before becoming one of the founders and directors of Ministry for Hard as Nails. The organization's Web site states its vision is to "bring the message of Jesus Christ in intense and dynamic ways."
"I was born for this era," Fatica said. "And there's something big that God wants to do with me -- I gotta do something great."
His speeches are untraditional at best. He's passionate, performs stunts, and is brutally honest and aggressive in his message.
Fatica explained that his tough, "in your face" methods are the most effective way to prove he is serious about his faith as well as inspire young people in today's culture.
"I'm in your face with how proud I am," Fatica said. "You know, of the young people and how God, how proud God is of them."
Fatica's "rough and tough" style doesn't seem to come from his parents, who are gentle and fairly well off. However, Fatica scoffs at the notion that his style is anything but authentic.
"Whatever, people just call it a schtick," he said. "I call it, I spent 10 years in Jersey, you know, hanging out with a bunch of characters."
He is a true believer and he makes no excuses, and in spite of that, or perhaps because of it Fatica knows connects with people, particularly kids.The kids who come to his meetings often don't know what they are in for, but Fatica believes this works in his favor.
"I don't know if they are expecting old fuddy priests," Fatica said. "But what I do know is they don't expect me coming in there and shakin' it up."
Fatica shakes things up by going to extreme measures. For example, one of his signature moves in a sermon is having someone hit him in the back with a chair while he proclaims his love for Jesus. He believes that he has to "shock the world, one person at a time."
His tactics are also a type of social commentary. "Look at the culture we live in," Fatica said, explaining why he gets hit in the back with chairs. "You are asking me this question because I'm a religious guy. Why don't you go out and get WWE in the line and ask them every day?" Fatica shocks people in this way not only to grab young people's attention, but to demonstrate suffering and sin.
"It's really about love, St. Francis, to show people that he sinned," Fatica said. "Jesus went through it for us, that suffering. We should start caring about it. But when we sin, it hurts Christ, it hurts ourselves and it hurts others."