Catholics line up for free tattoos in Austria

AFP - [email protected]
Catholics line up for free tattoos in Austria
Tattoer Silas Becks (R) curves a tattoo reading 'In God's hands..' to the arm of a young man on April 15, 2023 in Vienna, Austria.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

'In God's hands' read several of the tattoos inked during a free-of-charge session over the weekend -- organised by none other than Austria's leading group representing Catholic nuns and monks.


"It's important for the church to look at how people express their piety, including on their bodies," said Christopher Paul Campbell, director of Quo Vadis.

He added that the church -- parts of which have frowned upon tattoos -- had to "learn to be sexy" if it wanted to keep attracting followers. The number of people leaving the Catholic church in Austria has been
rising, reaching a record of almost 91,000 people last year.

About half of the Alpine EU member's nine million people are Catholic. Quo Vadis said hundreds of believers were keen to attend the first such tattoo session near Vienna's iconic St. Stephen's Cathedral on Saturday.

In the end, the dozens of slots available were allotted in a lottery. The night before the session, the German tattoo artist, his needles and everyone wanting to get tattooed were blessed in a mass. 

Dozens of people got inked free-of-charge under an initiative by Quo Vadis, a group that represents Austria's Catholic orders of monks and nuns. The group aims to let the faithful "express their piety, including on their bodies," according to its director Christopher Paul Campbell. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Believers could select from a list of intricate Christian motifs, including crosses and fishes. Austrian Ursula Noe-Nordberg asked to get a small cross tattooed on her wrist.

"It will be a surprise" for my family, the grandmother-of-five told AFP, adding the cross would remind her of her tattooed grandchildren. 

But not everyone was happy about the initiative, with organisers saying they received hate mail.


Some people believe body art is satanic, despite the practice of tattooing stigmata or tributes to a pilgrimage dating back centuries. Even famous Austrians such as the 19th-century Empress Sisi were tattooed.

"I got the criticism that we've turned the church into a disco. I say: okay, then I'm the DJ," countered Father Sandesh Manuel.

The Franciscan monk, who wears a baseball cap and likes to rap, also got inked with the words "Humanity is the greeting of religion".


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