Colorado Catholics gather to celebrate religious media giant, and its tenacious mother

Thousands of people bustled about the massive new Denver Convention Center this weekend to show their love and support for a feisty, 82 year old nun from Ohio, and for her dream--the worldwide Eternal Word Television Network. The Catholic media giant celebrates its 25th year of broadcasting this month.

Founded against near-impossible odds, the Alabama-based network, founded by Poor Claire nun, Mother Angelica in 1981, currently reaches 125 million television sets in 147 different countries in addition to its radio and internet services.

The Denver celebration was part of a multi-city tour honoring the network’s anniversary.

Marcus Grodi, well-recognized apologist, Catholic convert and host of EWTN’s “The Way Home” program, said that in an age of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ mentalities,  “one of the gifts of EWTN is that it charitably allows its viewers to recognize the problems in their lives so that they can be open to change.”

“The core of everything that is on EWTN”, he said, “is about Christ.”

Sr. Mary Catherine, Mother Vicar of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels monastery, founded by Mother Angelica, told CNA that “It was an act of God and an act of His mother to found EWTN.”

“Through that act,” she said, “the Lord is showing us His love and mercy,” because the network has been “a tool for conversion.”

The weekend was, in large part, a tribute to Mother Angelica herself, who suffered a stroke four years ago and was said to be watching the event live via satellite.

Raymond Arroyo, EWTN’s news director and author of the newly released biography about “little Rita Rizzo”, the tenacious little Italian who would become Mother Angelica, told the crowd of nearly 3,000 that she is perhaps the most feared and revered woman in Catholicism.

Becoming the “first woman in the history of television to start a non-profit T.V. network,” and “creator of the largest religious media empire on the planet”, he said, “is no small task”--particularly for a woman who came to the table with no television of her own and no more than $200 in the bank.

Arroyo describes in his biography that from a very early age, the nun came to understand suffering and tragedy--from her dysfunctional family life to her frequent conversations with the gangsters and prostitutes who shared her Canton, Ohio neighborhood growing up.

Because of this, he said, T.V. viewers recognized that she understood them because she had suffered herself.

Hers, he said, “is a great hopeful story for those of us who have been told that, ‘you can’t,’ or ‘don’t try,’ or ‘shut up,’ or ‘sit down.’”

“She loved Christ with abandon”, he said, “that’s what drove her.”

Reflecting on EWTN’s next 25 years, Deacon Bill Steltemeier, chairman of EWTN and longtime companion of Mother Angelica’s mission, told CNA that he’s anxious to see what God has in store for the network.

“This is God’s work”, he said, “not ours.” 

Likewise, Archbishop Charles Chaput, who celebrated Mass for the celebration on Sunday, said that, “God never leaves abandoned those who love him--and we celebrate that today.”

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As he closed his address, Arroyo left the crowd with a thought from Mother Angelica herself, reflecting on her tumultuous battle to build the network into the apostolate it is today and offering a message of hope to all present.

“Being afraid,” she said, “is not the problem. It’s being afraid and doing nothing that’s the problem.”

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