SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:
Pope Francis wraps up his trip to Brazil today, where he's been celebrating World Youth Day with a Mass at Copacabana Beach. This week, he's held several giant, open-air Masses to adoring crowds. But he's also addressed serious issues, challenging Brazil's bishops to be more in touch with the people; and issuing a call to protect to the Amazon rainforest against environmental degradation.
Out of the spotlight, church groups in Brazil have been able to use this trip to reach out to young Brazilians. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Rio.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So I'm at the Quinta de Boa Vista Park, and it's far away from the celebrations in Copacabana, but it is attracting a lot of young people. There are a number of kiosks in front of me; and you have the Carmelites, the Franciscans, the Legion of Mary. It looks like a job fair and in fact, kind of is.
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING AND CLAPPING)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nuns from the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady of Lourdes dance around in front of their stand, to the banging of drums and the strumming of guitars. The point of all this? There are fewer and fewer young people willing to give up their worldly lives these days to become monks, nuns and priests.
Recent Vatican figures show a dramatic decline. There are 300,000 fewer nuns and priests in religious orders than there were 40 years ago. Nuns, in particular, have been hard hit but so has the pope's own order, the Jesuits, whose numbers have halved since the 1970s.
Over 130 orders and groups are represented here at the park event. Everyone is trying to capitalize on the new pope's popularity. With over 1 million young Catholics from all over the world in town for World Youth Day celebrations, the various orders are pulling out all the stops to get young Catholics interested in working for the church.
(SOUNDBITE OF BACKGROUND CHATTER, LAUGHTER)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are actually trying to get an edge here. They're distributing free cake, and their stall is being mobbed.
Like any good sales event, the tactic is to lure them in and keep them talking. Brother Jose Manuel has his pitch down pat.
BROTHER JOSE MANUEL: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have a big operation here in Brazil, he says. We are known as communications specialists. But we do education, charity work, social work. We run orphanages for street children also, he says.
Russell Abdullah is 22, and he's from Orange County, Calif. Although he looks like a surfer, in a few months he'll join the Norbertines. He says his friends do wonder what he's doing. But he explains:
RUSSELL ABDULLAH: Some people are attracted to becoming a lawyer or a doctor, or something like that. I'm kind of attracted to becoming a priest. You know, you see what they do - they help people, they counsel people, they bring the Sacraments to people; they bring people closer to a higher good, which is God - and is love.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: His friend is also considering joining an order. Kevin Griego is 23, and he says the way it works is kind of like an internship - although, of course, that's not what it's called.
KEVIN GRIEGO: The way they would intern you is, you might spend a week at the monastery or at the abbey, and live the life for like, a week or a weekend. And just pray with them, work with them - do whatever they do; and serve the poor with them, whatever it is they do. And then that's how you get an idea if this is something you want to shoot for or not.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So he's making the rounds here, talking to people. The different groups are getting his details and then later, they'll follow up with an email or a phone call. Kevin says he's more attracted by the contemplative orders.
(SOUNDBITE OF BACKGROUND CHATTER, LAUGHTER)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One missionary order had his-and-her cardboard cutouts that people were lining up to take pictures with. Suelani Martins was among them. When asked if it made her any more likely to join the order, she replied diplomatically...
SUELANI MARTINS: No. (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm just looking around, trying to understand. But God hasn't touched my heart for that, no.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.
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