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Evangelizing through TV in Canada: interview with Fr. Thomas Rosica, President of Salt and Light Television.

Toronto -- Television is no longer forbidden territory for evangelization, says the priest who served as national director of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. Immediately after that World Youth Day, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica was appointed as president and chief executive officer of the Salt and Light (S+L) Catholic Media Foundation and television network in Canada. He also lectures on Sacred Scripture at the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto.

Q: How is S+L TV being received in Canada?

Fr. Rosica: Canada needed this medium more than we know. Starting up a television network anywhere is fraught with challenges, and in Canada this is compounded by the country's size, distances, languages and cultures.

The endeavour has been filled with countless blessings and consolations. In a little less than three years, Salt and Light Television became available in over 100,000 homes. And the number of subscribers is growing.

Q: Fr. How did the S + L TV network work come about?

Fr. Rosica: S+L was born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002. I have often compared WYD 2002 to a time-released capsule of holy energy and creativity that is slowly bearing fruit across our land.

Gaetano Gagliano

One of the most obvious fruits of the 2002 event is the television network that came about through the generosity of an Italian Canadian family that owns the largest private print and media company in the country, St. Joseph Communications. Its founder, Mr. Gaetano Gagliano, now 88 years old, was a disciple and friend of Blessed Giacomo Alberione, founder of the Society of Saint Paul and the Daughters of Saint Paul known for their publishing.

Mr. Gagliano views S+L as the crown of his long career in the print, media and communications industry. The Gaglianos provided the seed money to get this project off the ground.

Other visible fruits of the 2002 World Youth Day in Canada have been smaller media efforts in the Archdiocese of Halifax with the John Paul II Media Institute, and the new Catholic film productions in the Archdiocese of Quebec. S+L is working closely with both dioceses and their fine archbishops: Terrence Prendergast, S.J., in Halifax and Cardinal Marc Ouellet in Quebec City, to encourage their efforts and benefit from the skills and activities of each initiative.

From our very beginning in 2003, we have received unfailing support and encouragement from the Vatican Television Centre, from many departments of the Holy See, from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and many individual Canadian dioceses.

We have also worked closely with the American bishops' conference television services, Telepace and SA T2000 in Italy, KTO in France, the Archdiocese of Hong Kong Media Centre, and numerous Catholic television networks and Catholic film production houses throughout the world as we prepared our programming for Canada.

Q: Some say that we already have EWTN available, especially in North America. What is unique and specific to the mission of S+L TV?

Fr. Rosica: Mother Angelica and her very competent and admirable team have done something great for God and the Church by giving us EWTN. Yet we know that the urgent pastoral needs for education in faith and spirituality, history and Church teachings are so vast and can never be fulfilled by one group or agency. We view our efforts at S+L as complementary to those of EWTN, but we are also responding to specific needs and complexities of the Canadian Church.

Q: Describe the 24-hour-a-day programming schedule of the S+L TV Network.

Fr. Rosica: Everything we do revolves around the five pillars of the S+L TV network: prayer, devotion and meditation; multilingual Catholic liturgy, Vatican events and ceremonies; learning and faith development for all ages; stories of Catholic action and social justice throughout Canada and around the globe; stories of our Catholic communities; information and context.

We are producing 14 regular programs in our Toronto broadcast centre in English, French, Italian, and as of February, 2006, in the Chinese dialect of Cantonese. We also have occasional programs in Spanish, Polish and German. These languages respond to the culturally diverse Church in Canada.

S+L TV also works closely with the major television networks in Canada to assist in the background material and education about Catholic matters. This was clearly evident last winter and spring during the transition in the papacy. These efforts have built badly needed bridges with the secular media.

Q: Tell us about your documentary division.

Fr. Rosica: The documentary division of S+L specializes in the lives of the saints and other unique Catholic stories.

One of our first documentaries was made in Colombia, South America, and featured the young Colombians in Bogota and Medellin who made the small wooden crosses used at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. This social justice story "Learn from that Cross" has touched people throughout the world and kept alive the memory of World Youth Day 2002. Our best-known documentary is Love is a Choice, the life of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, the recently canonized Italian who decided to keep her baby to be born rather than follow doctors' advice to have an abortion and thereby save her life.

We chose this new saint as the patroness of our television network. If there was ever an age when we needed a strong role model of womanhood, motherhood, marriage, family, life ethics and professionalism, it is to be found in St. Gianna.

St. Gianna's husband Pietro and her family are good friends of mine and they asked if we would make the official film documentary of her life. The film on St. Gianna is now available in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and soon will be in Polish, Portuguese, Arabic and Cantonese.

Our most recent documentary premiered in September 2005 at the National Film Board Theatre in Toronto. Entitled Journey of Light: The Search for God in the Holy Land, this 47-minute documentary was filmed on location in Israel and Palestine. This documentary, which encourages pilgrimages to the Holy Land, was produced with the assistance of His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and follows the journey of a group of young Catholics to the Holy Land.

Q: We know that Pope John Paul a great influence on your d work. How does his life and vision continue to impact S+L TV and your own life?

Fr. Rosica: I learned most of what I am doing here at S+L TV from Pope John Paul II. He was a brilliant teacher and model of goodness and humanity ... a wise communicator and a true Pontifex Massmediaticus. Pope John Paul II was very happy that this Canadian Catholic television project came to life after World Youth Day 2002 and I had the opportunity of meeting with him on several occasions in 2003 and 2004 to share with him how the network was growing. His eyes lit up!

Now we pray to him and ask him to continue to bless this bold project of the New Evangelization. I am confident that St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pope John Paul II will do all they can to help us give flesh, depth and beauty to the words, stories and images of the Church through the medium of Catholic television in Canada (Jan. 27, 2006, Zenit).

Q: Fr. Rosica, you gave the above interview to the Zenit news service last December and it has since been published in several languages throughout the world. S+L TV is now well known throughout the world as a very effective instrument of the New Evangelization. It is now the end of August 2006. Share with Catholic Insight's readers some of the developments of S+L over the past year.

Fr. Rosica: A combination of Divine Providence, hard work, generosity and greater acceptance of our television network in Canada and far beyond have marked the past year for us. We are now close to 35 people working full-time on staff, and we have been blessed with a dozen interns over the past year. The interns are coming to us from the major film and television schools in Canada, as well as from other countries. This year, for example, we had a young man with us from the Spanish Bishops' Conference in Madrid, a young woman from Germany, and several seminarians from Canadian dioceses and from the Basilian Fathers who did their spring and summer pastoral placements with us. The presence of these young people--creative, faithful, hopeful and desiring to evangelize through the medium of television-bodes very well for our network. In many ways, S+L Television is the bearer of the legacy of World Youth Day 2002 in our country, and a testament to the life and vision of Pope John Paul II.

Q: Many have remarked on the bridges that S+L and you, personally, have built with the secular media. Has this relationship helped or hindered the mission of S+L Television?

Fr. Rosica: Far from hindering our mission, these bridges have enhanced our efforts in the New Evangelization. We are first and foremost a Catholic Media Foundation. I consider this to be the most important aspect of our work in Canada. While the television production work is clearly the "front end" of the whole operation, the "back end" is what we do day in and day out with the major television networks in this country, in several other countries, and with the print media. S+L exists to teach: to offer the world the flavour of the Gospel and the light of Christ to the present age that is often tasteless and darkened to Christian values.

Pope John Paul II taught me two things: first, we must be about the work of building bridges with the "secular" media. This does not mean capitulating to the current trends and frequent emptiness found in secular media, but to reach out, teach, instruct, inform, and to not be afraid. Not one of us at S+L Television has ever gone out and sought attention from or cooperation with the secular media. In fact, with reluctance at times we have responded to the very frequent requests for assistance and a presence in the media. It is always risky business! But John Paul II also taught me that these risks are worthwhile.

Many people in the media establishment in Canada, including those hostile to the Church, know that we exist. And they turn to us for background information, film footage, and assistance. I consider this to be a great sign of the validity of our work.

Second, Pope John Paul II taught us that so often we, as Church, forget that we are the bearers of the incredible story of salvation. We hesitate far too often to choose any means possible to proclaim this story. We spend more time hiding our light under a bushel rather than putting it on a lamp stand for all to see. While it is important to challenge and admonish the media when they don't get the story right, it is equally important to thank the media when they do help us to tell the story through their channels!

Q: S+L is also receiving some considerable financial assistance from various individuals and groups. How has this come about?

Fr. Rosica: Goodness, beauty and truth attract more of the same. And they also elicit generosity. I am very grateful to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, CT. They provided us with a grant of $750,000.00 to help us continue our efforts in evangelization, especially through programs and documentaries on the Saints, the Sacraments and Vocations. Several individuals have come forward with donations of one million dollars each. They have recognized the quality of our work. Finally there is a Catholic television network in Canada! We still need much more financial assistance to continue our efforts for television broadcasting is very expensive. I know that others will come forward to help us and I rely on the generosity and prayers. God bless the Gagliano family for their continued financial support and for the seed money to get the network off the ground.

Q: Have there been new documentaries and programming over the past months?

Fr. Rosica: Our documentary division has produced some outstanding productions over the past seven months. One of our best sellers of the year is It Rocks, an inside look at World Youth Day 2005 in Germany last summer. It tells the story of this great event through the eyes of a group of Canadian university students from throughout the country. Related to It Rocks is the latest DVD entitled Saints: Gospel Artists. This is a magnificent reflection on the lives of many of the new saints and blesseds of the Catholic Tradition and their relevance for young adults today. I recommend this highly to families, teachers, pastors, and all who work with young people.

Some of you are aware of how we decided to respond to the Da Vinci Code phenomenon. We seized this moment as an opportunity to teach: about Jesus Christ, the Church, and about Opus Dei. I recommend to your attention the excellent film we made on Opus Dei: Decoding God's Work We were also asked by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops to prepare a documentary on the social and economic challenges facing the poor in our midst.

One of our very talented producers turned a Good Friday Stations of the Cross into a dramatic presentation entitled IN, g[ This is very effective with groups of young people.

We are currently working on documentaries on the situation of Catholic education in Newfoundland, told through the eyes of the remarkable Jesuit College of St. Bonaventure in St. John's. As well, we are preparing several documentaries on more saints and blesseds, including one on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a real model and hero for young adults today. (Editor: C.I. will be publishing Ft. Rosica's article on Frassati in the near future.)

We were also invited to the recent National Convention of the Catholic Women's League of Canada held in Halifax. We are preparing a documentary on their mission and work throughout Canada.

Q: Will S+L TV reach out beyond Canada?

Fr. Rosica: Our first goal is to become available on every major cable network in this country. Though we are already accessible through Bell ExpressVu, Rogers, Cogeco, Videotron, we must still keep up the pressure with companies like Star Choice, Shaw Cable, Eastlink and all the smaller companies to carry us. It is not an easy task to convince these companies to carry Salt and Light, and for this reason I rely on every Catholic in Canada to contact their cable provider and request that S+L be available. The companies tell us frequently that they are faced with choices of including more adult channels over S+L! This is a very sad reality! But we will not give up!

We have received numerous requests to go on Catholic TV networks throughout the United States. In a few weeks we will begin a shared venture with Boston Catholic Television that covers a large area in the Archdiocese of Boston and in the State of Massachusetts. It will spread from there! Numerous countries and Episcopal Conferences have requested that we either share programming with them or be on their satellites. All of this will require additional funding. I am particularly interested in sending our programming to Third World areas such as India, the Philippines, Asia, Africa, Australia, and several South American countries. We will begin some Spanish programming in the fall.

We have been invited to take part in the first ever-International Catholic Television Congress in Madrid in early October 2006. I will be attending this Vatican-sponsored Congress with two other S+L colleagues. It will be a great privilege to exchange ideas and programming with my colleagues from throughout the world.

Q: Is the support still strong from the Vatican under the hip of Pope Benedict XVI?

Fr. Rosica: The support from the Vatican has remained very strong. In May I met with all of the people involved in television, media and communications at the Vatican. They expressed much gratitude to us for what we have been able to do in only three years. They appreciate the youthful perspective we present at S+L. We share many programs and are grateful for the daily Vatican television feed coming into our Broadcast Centre.

I also had the privilege of meeting Pope Benedict XVI while I was in Rome. He thanked me several times for the work of S+L TV and said to me at the end of the conversation: "Do you realize how important your television ministry is in Canada and for the Church? It is very important and badly needed in your country." These are wonderful words of encouragement and gratitude to the Gagliano Family and all of our supporters, donors and staff.

Q: Any final words for our readers?

Fr. Rosica: First, words of thanks. I know for a fact that many readers of Catholic Insight and the pro-life movements in Canada are among our more than 150,000 subscribers and households at present. I rely on your continued support and prayers. Especially your financial support.

Second, it is has become more and more obvious to me how right was the decision to make St. Gianna Beretta Molla the patron of our efforts at S+L Tld. She is a beautiful role model and example to our age and culture that struggles with and frequently denies the dignity and sacredness of human life, marriage, family life, ethics in the medical profession and authentic lay leadership in society. I turn to her several times each day for inspiration and assistance!

Three weeks ago, a Catholic businessman from Italy visited our studios. He made a large financial contribution and told us that he would like to distribute free to every parish and university chaplaincy in Italy our award-winning documentary Love is a Choice (in Italian, of course). He is convinced that the Italians must now discover their own Saint who has been really made known to the world through the efforts of the Canadian Catholic television network called S+L! That night I said a prayer of gratitude to St. Gianna for she is really watching over us!
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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