Today’s burning question is how to respond to the call for the new evangelization because as St. John Paul II said in 2003, “the age of evangelization is not over. Christ needs generous men and women who will become messengers of the Good News to the ends of the earth. Have no fear of following Him. Share freely with others the faith you have received. No believer in Christ can be separate from the supreme beauty of proclaiming Christ to all the people.”
Catholic radio is one of the special means the Holy Spirit uses to respond to this call for evangelization in the United States and the world. At last count, the EWTN worldwide radio service has some 235 affiliates, and the Federal Communication Commission has some 131 requests pending for licenses for Catholic FM stations.
Fortunately, the growth of Catholic radio received a big boost in 1996 when Mother Angelica made EWTN’s program feed available for free to any station wanting to air it because Catholic radio is such an effective way to spread the Gospel. It is personal, immediate, and an excellent way to respond to the needs of he local church especially for those who have no time to read about the faith or study it. They can listen and learn while driving to work, during their daily exercise or power walk, or just doing chores around the house.
According to the statistics, 91 percent of people listen to the radio an average 114 hours per week. At a broadcasters’ symposium in Toronto, Canada, on Feb. 15, 2015, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said, “Radio matters.” Radio works when the Internet goes down. Radio provides news, weather, a forum for promoting community activities and debating local political issues. What is more important, Catholic radio tells us what is right about the world.
Historically, by the 1930s, Catholic broadcasters had an optimistic view of the development of radio and, later, of the new medium of television. They saw it as an opportunity to remove barriers and bring people together by exchanging cultural values and promoting mutual understanding. Radio was considered the means par excellence for reconciling peoples, building fellowship among nations and promoting peace. Radio had become, like movie theaters, an important means of spreading ideas, and could, therefore, influence the views of millions and connect them to Christian values.
As evidence of this, an organization called SIGNIS has membership from 140 countries. Its official name is World Catholic Association for Communication. It brings together radio, television, cinema, video, media education, Internet and new technology professionals. It was organized in November 2001 by the merger of two organizations (Unda, for radio and television; and OCIC, for cinema and audiovisual), both of which began in 1928. SIGNIS has an official connection with UNESCO, the Council of Europe and is recognized by the Vatican as a Catholic organization for communication.
SIGNIS encourages Catholics to collaborate with private and public media professionals to produce religious programs that foster Gospel values by promoting human dignity, justice and reconciliation. It emphasizes the importance of these new modes of communication for building a viable religious, cultural and social life.
As a result, Catholic radio is now becoming “the Instrument of the New Evangelization” because the Church recognizes the role radio has in spreading the Faith. It can be the voice of the Holy Spirit in our time. The Second Vatican Council stated: “The Church, Our Mother, is particularly interested in those (technical inventions) which directly touch man’s spirit and which have opened up new avenues of easy communication.... Chief among them are ... cinema, radio and television ... rightly called the means of social communication ... if properly used they can be of considerable benefit to mankind” (Inter Mirifica,No. 1).
Realizing the importance of all facets of social communication, Pope Francis organized the Vatican Media Commission on April 30, 2015, to combine the following Vatican offices to make them more efficient in the cyberworld: the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Holy See Press Office; the Vatican Internet Service; Vatican Radio; the Vatican Television Center; L’Osservatore Romano; the Vatican Printing Press; the Photo Service, and the Vatican Publishing House. It is called The Secretariat for Communications and began operating officially on June 29, 2015, headquartered in Palazzo Pio, Piazza Pia, 3, 00120, Vatican City State.
As part of this cyberworld, Catholic radio is particularly effective in the sphere of evangelization and catechesis precisely because Western culture is, predominantly, a culture of the media. The desires, attitudes and ideas which most people hold, even their religious and moral beliefs, are shaped in large part as the result of their media consumption.
Pope Paul VI summed up the imperative for radio programming that is specifically and thoroughly Catholic: “The purpose of evangelization is therefore precisely this interior change, and if it had to be expressed in one sentence, the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, No. 18).
In the United States, the Catholic Radio Association was founded in 1999 to serve as a trade association for Catholic radio to advance the cause of Catholic radio. It provides member services by facilitating the sharing of knowledge and resources, speaking with the collective voice of its members. Its membership includes virtually all Catholic radio apostolates in the United States, including Catholic radio program providers and several dioceses. In addition, a growing number of dioceses around the Caribbean and Africa are joining as a way to complement their local efforts.
Because of the association’s unique perspective, it provides its members with knowledge and experience, as well as the necessary services for Catholic radio leadership. In addition, the association provides a much needed forum in which to discuss the challenges in the ever-changing broadcasting marketplace, so that each station or programming apostolate may take full advantage of all the opportunities to expand and spread the Gospel.
Its work and organization saw a change in 2001 when Archbishop John P. Foley, later Cardinal Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in a meeting with association’s founders, asked them to become the trade association for the burgeoning apostolate of Catholic radio. The founders considered the idea and quickly agreed.
An Episcopal Advisory Board was established in 2002. Through the EAB, every U.S. bishop is informed and invited to utilize Catholic radio to advance the work of the Church. This outreach has profoundly affected not only every Catholic station and program provider in the country, but the life of the Church in the U.S. and, consequently, the world.
According to the Catholic Radio Association, those dioceses served by Catholic radio see not only an increase in church membership, but a decided increase in their stewardship response as well as holier Catholic people who take an active part in public life working to promote the common good of the entire community.
As an added bonus, Catholic radio provides an effective means to reach out to the Hispanic community, which seems to have a special affinity for receiving information and entertainment by listening to the radio. In addition, many parish priests do not possess the ability to speak Spanish, and some immigrants may not feel comfortable attending, or are not able to attend, activities in the parish.
Today, Catholic radio is crawling out of infancy. Over 250 AM and FM stations across the United States now broadcast full- or part-time Catholic programming. This is an increase from only a handful a few years ago. As the bishops of North America utilize Catholic radio, the apostolate should experience continued phenomenal growth in the next several years, taking full advantage of every opportunity to expand and spread the Gospel.
All Christians have an obligation to help people understand and accept the divine message of salvation. The atmosphere in the United States is becoming more hostile for those adhering to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We can bolster our confidence by learning more about our faith through listening to Catholic radio and encouraging others to listen to the Catholic radio station in their locality.
To find a local Catholic radio station, consult the Catholic Radio Association website at www.catholicradioassociation.org/travel for its AM and FM station travel guide.
MSGR. ASHTON writes from Youngstown, Ohio.