DM Helps Philly Church Reach Its Wayward Flock

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The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is using direct marketing -- including a toll-free, confidential advice telephone number -- to bring people back to the Roman Catholic Church in preparation for the new millennium.

Television and radio ads are advertising the hotline, and direct mail fliers were sent out last month to 434,000 registered Catholic homes in the five-county area in Philadelphia. This month, the archdiocese will tout the Catholic call center on billboards and posters on buses throughout the archdiocese. The hotline is part of the archdiocese's millennium effort, which consists of five phases, including a door-to-door campaign to invite people to come and in some cases, return, to the sacraments.

Currently, 140 priests -- who work three at a time in four-hour shifts -- are answering 100 calls a day on the hotline, 1-877-Bless-me. The archdiocese, however, doesn't plan to collect names and addresses of people who call the private hotline to increase its direct mail or database efforts.

"We had talked about trying to get age and demographic information to enhance the program. Since the conversations are confidential, you can't stop and ask them where they got the number for the hotline -- from the flier or the television ad, for example," said spokesman John Miller.

If the person offers their age or where they live, he said, the church will make a note of it.

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, said the purpose of the campaign is not to bring profits or people to the church but simply to help people.

"We are not advertising in order to get more business or to fill the pews," he said "We are doing it for the people's sake."

The hotline, which can be used by people in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware, gives callers a chance to ask advice about issues such as divorce, abortion and suicide.

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