French Catholic church uses Facebook to draw new recruits
An Associated Press report said recently that Facebook is now being used to help recruit priests in France.
According to the report, this is part of an overall euro 250,000 campaign to encourage more males to become men of the cloth. The April 20-May 5 campaign also includes 75,000 postcards showing a priest’s vestments with a button reading, “Jesus is my Boss” and the slogan, “Why not?” It will be distributed throughout France, in restaurants, bars and movie theaters, among other places.
But the use of Facebook indicates the ever enlarging role the social network is playing in today’s world. On its first week the page got over 1,200 fans.
Roman Catholicism is the main religion in France, comprising 64 percent of the population, or 41.6 million people out of a total 65 million. However, only some 2 million attend church regularly, the report said.
There has also been a steady decline in the number of priests with only 24,000 today, compared to 42,000 in 1975. Even the number of those who were ordained in 2009 (89) is a steep fall from a decade before at 116 in 1999.
Although the declining trend of ordainments is common in Europe and the United States, globally ordainments have actually increased, with the largest number of new priests coming from Asia and Africa.
The AP report noted, for example, that it is common for a church service in Italy to be conducted by priests from Brazil, Mozambique, the Philippines and other countries.
For Europeans and the United States, the most difficult obstacle towards becoming a priest is the vow of celibacy. However, another difficult consideration is that the priesthood is a lifetime career choice whereas many people undergo many career changes in a lifetime. Also, priests don’t make much money. In Asia and Africa however joining the priesthood is a valued profession. It also enables one to get an advanced education and earn a respectable living.
Even the average age of the European priests is indicative of a shortage of young Caucasian men entering the priesthood. On the average, an Italian priest in 2003 was 60 years old, with one of every eight priests 80 years or over.
The decline is not related to the recent sex abuse scandals, the AP said. The ad campaign however hopes to interest a younger age group of French men to become part of the Catholic priesthood.
The Telegraph UK for example described a half page ad of a 41-year-old man with the caption, “I am a man among others. I’ve heard and responded to Christ’s call. I love life. I am a priest!”
The use of Facebook is also seen as a way to attract their target market and to reinvent the image of priests into something more young, new and contemporary. The Telegraph UK report quoted French advertising guru Jacques Seguela who commented on the ad campaign and the sex abuse church scandals by saying, “The Church couldn’t call off the publicity campaign. In any case, the ad is also a good counterattack in a crisis period. This is a real grassroots reaction of the Church showing its modernization, in contrast with the image of a Pope mired in his own conservatism.”