THE Dublin archdiocese will have the highest number of men in formation for the priesthood in almost 10 years when the new term at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, begins next month.
The news comes as the Catholic Church in America launches a new, Hollywood-inspired vocations poster similar to the eye-catching 'Men in Black' vocations campaign launched here in 1998. The new poster is based on the cult science fiction film, The Matrix, and features a priest posing a la Neo, the messiah-like figure played by Keanu Reeves.
Five thousand copies of the poster will be distributed among interested young people who are gathering in Cologne in Germany next week for World Youth Day, an event that is being attended by up to 1,500 Irish youth. Dublin's vocations director, Fr Kevin Doran, said that the Church here has no plans yet to use the poster.
However, he said that the vocations situation facing the Dublin diocese was improving. "We should have 15 men in formation, up from the low point of nine a few years ago." He says that four Dublin men are due to start training for the priesthood this year. He also confirmed that enquiries about the priesthood have increased since the death of Pope John Paul II in April.
Fr Doran, who is also the National Vocations Coordinator, said that over a 10-day period in April, when world attention was focused on Rome, the vocations website run by the Dublin diocese recorded a 600pc increase in hits. He said some of this interest had translated into concrete queries about joining the priesthood. "Currently I am in touch with 10 or 11 men who are considering becoming priests, which is up on last year."
However, he said that the number due to enter formation this year "would not really reflect the events of last April because it usually takes from six months to a year before an initial query might turn into a decision to join". He added: "That means we won't really know until this time next year what impact on vocations the death of Pope John Paul II, and the election of Pope Benedict, has had."
According to Fr Doran, the low point for vocations to the priesthood of the Dublin diocese was 1997 when no-one entered formation. He said: "Until 1997 or 1998, the trend in terms of vocations was downward, and since then it has been climbing upward again, although slowly."
The absence of vocations in the late 1990s prompted the diocese to launch the 'Men in Black' campaign based on the spoof science fiction film of the same name starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as two agents, dressed in black, sworn to defend earth from 'the worst scum of the universe.'
The new movie-inspired poster, which originated in the US, is the brainchild of Fr Jonathan Meyer, who is also the priest used in the poster. Like Neo, he is dressed in black in a full-length cassock, and like Neo, he is wearing sunglasses, but unlike Neo he holds a cross in one hand and the rosary in the other.
Fr Meyer said: "Today's seminarian is engaged with the world but is also committed to orthodoxy, like John Paul II." He said the poster has already got a big response. "They were going like hotcakes. Young kids wanted them to hang in their bedroom, high school students wanted them to hang in their lockers. That is invaluable. If we can get kids to hang a picture of a priest in their room, we've done something huge for vocations."
He added: "People love heroes. The poster personifies the priest as a hero."
David Quinn - Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent