By John Mallon
(The following interview originally appeared in the English edition of the Italian publication, Messenger of Saint Anthony, in April 2007. It is reprinted here by their kind permission.)
26 Years of EWTN: ‘Where the Spirit Leads, We will Follow’ Carrying on the Legacy of Mother Angelica
An Interview with Michael P. Warsaw, president of Eternal Word Television Network, the American Catholic Media Corporation which continues to pursue Mother Angelica’s legacy
Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) today is a worldwide phenomenon. As their website tells us, when it was launched on August 15, 1981, many felt there would be little demand for a Catholic network. Now, in its 26th year, EWTN has become the largest religious media network in the world, transmitting programming 24 hours a day to more than 123 million homes in 140 countries and territories on more than 4,800 cable systems, wireless cable, Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS), low power TV and individual satellite users.
It is a very unlikely story. In the early 1960s, Mother M. Angelica, a Poor Clare nun, cloistered and dedicated to the perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, fulfilling a promise made to Jesus, founded Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Irondale, Alabama, in the Deep South. In one of her early evangelizing efforts Mother Angelica began writing "mini-books", short teachings on a variety of religious themes. As the popularity of these "mini-books" grew, her nuns obtained a printing press and started duplicating and distributing them worldwide.
Soon, Mother began receiving requests for speaking engagements, evolving into a video series of her talks taped at a local Birmingham television station. The Poor Clare nun, who knew little of the world of technology and communication, then built her own TV studio on monastery property in Irondale, which today is home to Eternal Word Television Network. What began 24 years ago as a garage-turned-TV-studio is now a state of the art audiovisual complex funded totally by gifts from individuals and groups and visited annually by thousands of pilgrims.
EWTN Global Catholic Network airs family and religious programming from a Catholic point of view in English and Spanish. Providing more than 80% original programming, EWTN offers inspiring talk shows, entertaining children's animation, exclusive teaching series, live coverage of Church events, and thought-provoking documentaries.
Beyond the broadcast vision, however, first and foremost, the spiritual heart of the EWTN mission is to bring the Eternal Word of Jesus Christ to all. The religious centers of the network are visited daily by pilgrims who travel to Irondale to worship in the chapel or visit the breathtakingly beautiful Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. Visitors of all faiths are invited to "come away by yourself to a quiet place, and rest awhile" (Mark 6:31) and to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, adored and loved perpetually by the cloistered nuns now living at the newly built Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Hanceville or by the faithful in Irondale.
Mother Angelica, relies completely on Divine Providence, without making plans for the future and believes in going "where God opens the door." It is that deep and constant faith in the Lord, which has called Mother Angelica to act on God's invitation to do the impossible, through Him, who accomplishes the miraculous.
Messenger of Saint Anthony recently put some questions to Michael P. Warsaw, President of EWTN Global Catholic Network about Mother Angelica and the present and future of EWTN.
First of all, how is Mother Angelica? How is her health?
Mother Angelica is doing well. Five years ago, she suffered a very serious stroke which greatly limited her ability to speak. She now spends her time with her sisters in contemplation and prayer, and is living comfortably with them at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama.
Mother Angelica is easily the most well-known, best-loved and effective Catholic evangelist and broadcaster America has produced since Archbishop Fulton Sheen. What challenges does EWTN face with her retirement?
Like Fulton Sheen, Mother Angelica has always had a tremendous ability to reach out and touch the hearts of people in her audience with a timeless message. Even though Mother is no longer able to produce new programs, her Mother Angelica Live Classic programs and her recorded prayers and devotions will always remain a part of EWTN's programming. It's also important to remember that Mother Angelica was always the first to say that EWTN is God's Network and that the mission of EWTN is far greater than any one individual, including herself. In that light, today EWTN continues to pursue its same mission of reaching out around the world with the splendor of Truth.
Recently, with the election of Pope Benedict XVI there has been increased coverage of the Vatican from your news department, including special papal events like World Youth Day, other papal trips, and canonization ceremonies. Do you plan to expand on that?
EWTN has had a cordial working relationship with the Vatican Television Center (CTV), Vatican Radio (Radio Vaticano) and many other offices and dicasteries of the Holy See. In 2005, EWTN established a full time news bureau in Rome, headed by Joan Louis, a long-time Vatican journalist. We are currently in discussions about expanding EWTN's presence in Rome and originating even more programming from the heart of the Church.
In addition to your catechetical and evangelistic efforts, and In light of the mainstream American media’s increasing hostility to Christianity and Catholicism in particular, do you have any plans to expand your news department and news reporting?
Certainly our news programming, in particular our flagship news program, The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, has garnered a tremendous amount of attention and audience response over the years. People appreciate the ability to hear about current events from a Catholic perspective and to hear Catholic news that is not reported anywhere else. EWTN's commitment to news remains strong and we are currently working on plans to expand our news offerings across all of our media platforms- television, radio, Internet and other digital media, so stay tuned!
As a worldwide network do you have any plans to broadcast in any other languages besides English and Spanish? Or is English universal enough at this point?
English, for the good or the bad of it, has certainly become the universal language and so we find that even in areas of the world where other languages are used, there is an appreciation for and understanding of EWTN's programming. We have concentrated our efforts on English and Spanish and continue to produce more and more programming in these two languages that reflects the cultures of the people we serve. For example, while programs created in the US can certainly be understood and embraced by our British audience, we realize that we need to produce programs that look and sound like the people of the UK. That same approach applies to our two separate Spanish television services, one for the international Spanish-language audience and another for the US Spanish-language community.
EWTN also has produced programming in German for a number of years and, much to the delight of our Holy Father Pope Benedict, EWTN recently launched a full-time direct-to-home satellite channel that reaches Germany and the other German-speaking nations. We are developing new programs in the German language and looking at ways to further expand our presence there. Similarly, we have begun to produce some programming in French and are hoping to expand in that area as well.
How do you envision the future of EWTN? Technologically? Spiritually?
In all that we do, EWTN remains attentive to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, so where the Spirit leads, we will follow. We also strive to remain faithful to the charism and example of our Foundress, Mother Angelica. We pursue the same mission today that Mother began twenty-six years ago, and it is the same mission we will pursue in the days, weeks and decades ahead: the advancement of truth as defined by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. We will also continue to use every means of technology to carry out that mission. We live in an age where the pace of technological advancement is staggering, and often that technology is used for purposes that are at odds with our faith. Our goal is to use those same technologies to advance the gospel and to be sure that there is no place on this earth that name of Jesus is not heard!