MONTREAL - Can prayer assure your favourite NHL team a chance for a run at the Stanley Cup? An ad that is all tongue-in-cheek, taken out by the archdiocese of Montreal, is inviting hockey fans to give it a try.
|An ad by the archdiocese of Montreal asks Habs fans|
— in a tongue-in-cheek way —
to pray for a playoff spot for the Montreal Canadiens.
The one-day campaign hit the sports section of Montreal’s two largest French dailies, La Presse and Le Journal de Montréal, Feb. 9.
The full-page ad lists all of the teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, except for the Canadiens. In eighth spot, which is the cut-off for the playoffs, is the word “Prions,” which means “Let us pray.” A horizontal line draws the reader’s eye out from the eighth standing to the archdiocese’s logo. (At The Register’s press time, the Canadiens remained seven points behind the historic rival Toronto Maple Leafs, who held the eighth and final playoff spot.)
“The ad is a wink (at the culture),” explains diocesan communications director Lucie Martineau.
“It’s a teaser to remind people of the presence of the Church in society. This approach allows us to reach people who we would otherwise not be able to reach, with the Gospel message. Hockey is an activity that gathers people together, and the Church is interested in being present among the people. Prions is a message with a missionary theme, aimed at the first stage in the process of evangelization.”
The ad was designed by Bos advertising agency, which has been the creative force behind the archdiocese’s public campaigns for about 20 years. Hugo Léger said his agency has been reflecting for a while on how to combine two of Quebec’s most important cultural references — the Church and Habs’ hockey — in an effective ad.
“It fundamentally remains an invitation to prayer,” Léger told Le Journal de Montréal. “The desire is to invite people to contemplation. The objective is to render the Church present… The Church is a living institution, close to people and their preoccupations.”
While the campaign has received positive international press, some academics, such as Olivier Bauer, have been critical of the ad’s theological message and underpinnings, which he claims could lead to questions about the existence of God.
And why, for example, is “Let us pray” eighth in the standings and not first, the University of Montreal theology professor asks in an op-ed piece in The Montreal Gazette, Feb. 11. Bauer is the author of the 2011 book Hockey as Religion: The Montreal Canadiens.
“My question is whether anyone seeing this ad will come to some new insight or perception about the nature of prayer or the power of prayer,” said Paul Allen, a theology professor at Concordia University and a blogger for the diocesan web site. “I may be wrong — in fact, I hope I am wrong — but I think this ad campaign will invite skepticism about the power of prayer, even ridicule of it. And that’s a shame.”
The archdiocese normally takes out ads as part of its annual fundraising drive, which takes place every spring. However, Prions is one of the archdiocese’s off-season campaigns, which are launched occasionally just for the sake of engaging the public.