On a Wednesday afternoon, Fr. Mario Salvadori practises a homily, complete with his laptop and large screens. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Tech-savvy priest ‘sells’ Catholicism

By  Tristan Bronca, Youth Speak News
  • October 26, 2012

THORNHILL, ONT. - A financial analyst turned priest, Fr. Mario Salvadori is marketing an unorthodox and unapologetic formula of evangelization — and youth are flocking to it.

Salvadori, the only priest at Thornhill’s St. Joseph the Worker parish, jokes that he has “more degrees than a thermometer.” He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, a master’s degree in theology and a master’s in business administration. Before he was a priest, Salvadori was a businessman. In many ways, he still is.

“I used to be able to sell a glass of water to a drowning man,” he said. “Now I sell Jesus Christ.”

His congregation in this Toronto suburb seems to be buying it.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Vlad Mamaradlo, the lay minister Salvadori hired to work with youth. Mamaradlo said every Mass is standing room only. “Even the foyer is full.”

And in the five years since Salvadori joined the parish, he’s paid off a $1.3-million renovation and $600,000 more off the mortgage.

Salvadori’s success stems from his approach to Mass. For him, evangelization is no different than marketing. “It’s just a different word,” he said. He and Mamaradlo look at Catholicism as a product they are selling. Something that, they say, the Church has failed to sell.

“In society, people are given options,” Mamaradlo said, “so let’s give them options.”

What Salvadori has given them is a refreshing twist on the traditional Mass. When he ordered the church renovation back in 2009, he made sure it would accommodate his style for delivering just that.

“We’re competing against 60-inch TVs, iPods and every other stimulation that’s out there,” Mamaradlo said.

So, Salvadori brought the technology to Mass. Every homily, his laptop is plugged into the pulpit, at the ready to bring up a clip on the two huge screens on either side of him.

He invites guest speakers and tackles current and controversial topics that many priests tend to shy away from — topics that weigh heavily on everyday life. One homily he delivered in May included a clip of U.S. President Barack Obama speaking about gay marriage. That homily has collected more than 300 views on YouTube as have some of his other videos posted on the site.

There are other options too, opportunities to connect with the congregation outside the now lessthan-traditional construct of Mass. There are trips downtown to feed the homeless, youth groups, parish events, even retreats in the United States that young people can sign up for.

Mamaradlo’s role as a paid youth minister is rare in Canada. It is part of a model Salvadori discovered in the United States. Seventeen other people were interviewed, flying in from places like Montreal and Philadelphia, in hopes of landing the position.

In fact, Salvadori runs the entire parish based on the U.S. model. He was first exposed to it 18 years ago when he attended a conference in Steubenville, Ohio.
“The first thing that stunned me was that they used video,” he said. “I remember thinking ‘Wow, you can do this in the Catholic Church?’ ”

When Salvadori came to St. Joseph with plans to use the technology, he was met with that same sense of uncertainty. Then, only days after ordering the renovation, the Pope spoke out in approval, advocating the use technology to evangelize youth.

The initial reluctance at the parish is not the only resistance he’s encountered. Salvadori is known for a direct and unbending approach to Catholicism that can sometimes be hard to swallow.

“Just look at some of the comments he’s got on YouTube,” Mamaradlo said.

For example, a few weeks ago Salvadori asked the entire congregation to call one MP to voice their support for an anti-abortion motion. When the motion was denied he called it a “sin of omission” and asked everyone who didn’t call to complete a penance.

Salvadori doesn’t shy away from this criticism — he welcomes it. When asked about this, his voice perked, as if he wasn’t the only priest in a parish who’d been running around all day before a 9:45 p.m. interview.

“Many words have been used to describe me, but nobody has ever used the ‘B’ word,” he said. In more than 15 years and after hundreds of good and bad e-mails from parishioners, no one has ever described a Mass with Salvadori as “boring.”

(Bronca, 21, is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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