PHILADELPHIA – Put the CD-ROM into the computer and you’re greeted by images of stained glass, heavenly music, and two video screens.
Click on the left screen, and the white-haired bishop of Trenton, N.J., appears, smiling and beckoning. "I welcome you with an open heart as you begin your journey of discernment," Bishop John M. Smith says. Click on the right screen, and you meet the Rev. Mick Lambeth, the diocese’s vocations director. He also makes a plea.
In person, Lambeth jokingly calls himself a "hound for heaven" who will walk right up to any young man in a Catholic high school jacket and ask: "Have you thought of becoming a priest?"
These are anxious times for most of the nation’s 175 Catholic dioceses, where the supply of priests has plummeted 25 percent nationwide over four decades, even as the U.S. Catholic population has swelled by 30 percent. Most are resorting to some combination of mass media, the Internet and software to woo vocations.
In the Philadelphia Archdiocese – where about 20 priests die each year, and about five new priests are ordained – priestly vocations have become a "super priority," according to the Rev. Christopher Rogers, the archdiocese’s vocations director.
This year’s drive to raise awareness "is more ambitious than anything we’ve done in a while," Rogers said last week. There are nearly 1,000 active diocesan and religious-order priests in the archdiocese. In 1990, the archdiocese had about 1,200 such priests.
On Thursday, the archdiocese placed billboards on Interstates 95 and 76 featuring a smiling young man in a Roman collar.
Their vocation website looks pretty good with lot’s of solid suggestions including Novena prayers and a set of suggested prayers for the prayers of the faithful at Mass. Combined with Eucharistic adoration and the showing of the excellent Fishers of Men video this is pretty solid. Though I think a true vocations program has to be more than a yearly event for a week, but something that needs to be emphasized continuously. The vocations director probably has the best of the ideas by pretty much encouraging any young man he meets about considering if they have a vocation to the priesthood. Advertising campaigns and billboards are fine as they go, but it is the personal encouragement by people who know them that is going to elicit a response for those who have vocations to the priestly or religious life.