Young priests in sharp suits and sunglasses are turning heads and winning hearts at the Catholic World Youth Day festival in Cologne.

They are the type of men Pope Benedict hopes will secure the future of the Church and inspire youngsters to choose a religious life, which may be why he has insisted on addressing seminarians personally during his four-day visit to Germany.

Churches in North America and Europe are crying out for priests. To some of the 400,000 youngsters attending the event, the sight of a young man in a priest's collar or black suit arouses huge interest.

Young people say they are also approachable enough to ask frank questions such as how they can live without sex.

"It was meeting a young priest at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000 that made me decide I wanted to be a priest," said 27-year-old Matt Henry from Arizona.

"When you see inspirational, active young priests then you begin to consider it as an option for yourself," he added.

The more dashing young priests at World Youth Day seem to have an entourage of adoring teenage girls. Young men question them on what made them decide to devote their lives to God.

New strategies for tapping this interest to boost new recruits have turned one young American priest into a pin-up.

Fr Jonathan Meyer, wearing sunglasses and a sleek black cassock and clutching a crucifix, replicates Keanu Reeves' pose in the film "The Matrix" for a recruitment poster.

"It has been a complete success... It is a striking image which meets young people were they are at," said 28-year-old Fr Meyer, who manages youth work in the diocese of Indianapolis.

"I know I am hanging in a few girls' bedrooms too, but that's fine - we need their prayers for more priests," he said.

World Youth Days have become a kind of job fair for the Church. Beside large-scale masses and vigils with the Pope, young people can discuss faith and possible religious callings.

"I genuinely hope many participants will pose these questions and get the right assistance," Cardinal Joachim Meisner told a news conference.

"Our World Youth Day in Paris in 1997 was very good for finding future priests and matching couples who later married," said 32-year-old Fr Claude Amaury.

Although some young people say they admire priests' service to their parishes, chastity is a key stumbling block for many.

Asked if they had considered the priesthood, a group of Bavarian boys snigger and say no. Asked why not, one mutters "no sex".

However, Fr Meyer believes that, through the influence of the late Pope John Paul, more youngsters are looking for a more traditional brand of Catholicism and the devotion and spirituality which life in the priesthood entails.

Mr Henry explained he was not afraid of a future life alone without a family.

"To some extent we are living it in the seminary already. There is no dating allowed."