Wanted: bankers willing to give up Mammon for God

Swiss order of Catholic monks advertises for recruits in magazine for financial alpha males

The sober-looking advert fills a quarter of a page in Switzerland's premier "executive search" magazine, but the kind of vacancy it is trying to fill is no ordinary one. Along with no pay, "freedom from the common couple relationship" is cited as an upside of a profession for which new members are desperately sought.

The recruitment drive has been launched by Switzerland's normally reclusive Roman Catholic Capuchin monks. The religious order is in such perilous decline that it has been obliged to take the unprecedented step of advertising for fresh blood in the country's main job-vacancy magazine, Alpha, which has a circulation of more than one million.

"We are chronically over-aged," Willi Anderau, the spokesman for the Swiss Capuchins, said. "There are hardly any people joining the order these days, we are suffering from what might be described as a personnel shortage – so a job-vacancy advert is quite logical."

The advertisement appeared in the "banking and insurance" section of Saturday's edition of Alpha. It calls on young Catholic "bankers, journalists, teachers, theologians, tradesmen, lawyers and communication experts aged between 22 and 35" to consider joining the order.

Applicants, the advert says, should be "independent, yet capable of communal living, curious and show initiative".

But life in the order is about as far removed from an average banking or insurance executive's lifestyle as it is possible to get. The advert makes this clear: "We offer you no pay, but spirituality and prayer, contemplation, an egalitarian lifestyle, free of personal material riches and the common model of a couple relationship."

It takes three years of apprenticeship before novices can be fully ordained as monks. Monastery life is structured with prayer, community life and work. "Anyone who thinks they can take it easy here has got it wrong," Mr Anderau said.

The recruitment drive has been launched in a desperate attempt to stop Switzerland's Capuchins from simply dying out. The Franciscan order has halved in size over the past decade and now has only 200 members left in the country. Their average age is 70. Two monasteries have been forced to close and a third in the Appenzell region is due to shut down next year. The monks hope to attract between 10 and 20 new members through their recruitment drive.

But Switzerland's Capuchin monks are not alone; a dramatic decline in the number of Roman Catholic monks and nuns has occurred on a global scale over the past three decades, their ranks dropping by a quarter.

Vatican figures released two years ago showed that the number of "members of the consecrated life" had fallen worldwide by nearly 95,000 to 945,000 in the space of just one year between 2005 and 2006. The trend is being exacerbated because there are hardly any new recruits to replace monks and nuns who die. Remarkably, the dramatic decline has coincided with a surge in the number of "stressed executives" seeking temporary escape from the rigours of their jobs by going on weekends or weeks of spiritual contemplation that are now offered at several monasteries in Europe.

Mr Anderau said the Capuchin's advert was only the start of a broader campaign which would encourage people from other walks of life, such as social workers, to join the order.

He said he believed the decline could be halted if the public was better informed. "Most people's idea of being a monk is a cliché," Mr Anderau said.

"We try to live the Franciscan way of life in the 21st century. Hardly anyone wears a habit these days."

Yet Swiss experts on religion doubt the Capuchin's campaign will achieve its aim. Georg Otto Schmid, who has done research on the decline of monasteries, said: "It may be trendy to take a holiday in a monastery, but spending one's life in one is an not an attractive idea for most people.

"Most people only think about joining an order when they find themselves running a whole gamut of crises."

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