Billboards are usually seen along expressways trying to grab our attention and get us to stop along the way. Often, we glance at these signs and continue driving to get to our destination. But what if a billboard was calling you towards religious life? Would you simply just read the sign and continue driving or would you answer the call?
Seeking to repopulate its thinning religious ranks, the Roman Catholic diocese of Austria's largest province launched a province-wide billboard campaign to recruit priests, nuns, and other laypeople. The requirements are simple: a sense of religious mission and a commitment to celibacy. Benefits: a possible inside track to Heaven. With over 80 large billboards and 300 small electric placards being placed around the provinces, the message is simple, “The Mission. Those who give all receive more.”
While unemployment is growing in Vienna, these billboards are a way to encourage men and women to consider entering into religious life. The billboard campaign has created some serious stir because mass advertisement for religious life is rare. Austria, which is overwhelmingly Catholic, is finding that is mostly in name rather than practice.
Like elsewhere in many parts of Europe, Masses are poorly populated in Vienna and other bigger cities and the number of declared Catholics is shrinking – in Austria by 13 percent since 1960 – as former believers fed up with church scandals and a perceived sense of the Vatican's disconnect with the world.
At the same time, however, the number of priests has declined rapidly – in Austria by 26 percent. In St. Poelten, Lower Austria's provincial capital, 244 priests are administering to the needs of 423 parishes. Country-wide, the overwhelming majority of priests are over 60, and young replacements are scarce.
The hope is that this billboard campaign will get people interested in religious life and service and to show people the importance of working with the Church. To read more about the billboard campaign check out the piece in the Huffington Post.