Recognizing that the Word comes in many languages, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been funding non-English radio programs that minister to immigrants here as well as the faithful abroad.
Two radio shows, one in Spanish and another in Haitian Creole, received funding for the past several years from the bishop'sCatholic Communication Campaign. Pas Mande'm Kont (roughly translated as "don't ask me to be accountable") is a soap opera written and produced in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, by the diocesan station Radio Soleil. It also airs on eight other stations across the nation within the Ressau Etoile network, said Jesuit Father Pierre Bélanger.
The Spanish-language production is Tu Compañero Católico, (Your Catholic Companion) a 30-minute magazine-format show that airs on about 75 radio stations nationwide and on the Sirius satellite radio network Catholic Channel.
While the two shows air in different nations, different languages and are heard by different audiences, the goal is the same, said Helen Osman, secretary of communications for the Catholic Communication Campaign.
"It's the mission of the Church fundamentally; it's what we should be doing," Osman said.
The Catholic Communication Campaign mandate is to fund proposals to meet the communication needs of the Church. If the targeted audience of a particular proposal is using a language other than English, that program must be presented in their language.
"The Church is bigger than geographic and cultural boundaries,"Osman told Our Sunday Visitor.
"If we are going to say we are Catholic, then no matter what the language or the culture, we support communication efforts."
While"Pas Mande'm Kont" offers spiritual messages in a radio drama format that follows a rural Haitian young man who comes to the city seeking a better life, it is serialized fiction that catches eardrums.
"There is almost no drama on the radio these days, but in several countries of the developing world, it is one of the most interesting tools to get people's attention on values. The Christian values are presented in an indirect way; there is no preaching," Father Bélanger said.
Listeners call or come to the stations where the show airs if it is missing one day, executive producer Father Desinord Jean said.
"It is very interesting to see how people take it seriously, like it was a true story. It is something in some scenes to see the listeners crying," he said. "Some listeners call to share how the drama helped them to reconcile with friends and family."
Faith of the flock
"Tu Compañero Católico" has a variety of elements, including segments on health, spiritual advice and the law, with a sprinkling of music and humor mixed in. It is aimed at helping recent Hispanic immigrants to the United States find their way and strengthen their faith as they try to adapt to a new country.
One of the reasons the CCC chose to support "Tu Compañero Católico" was the need of parishes to minister to an increasing number of Spanish-speaking faithful, Osman said.
"They look at their flock and they say, 'How are we meeting folks' needs?' It does help them connect," she said.
During the 30 years she spent in the Diocese of Austin Texas, Osman said she learned that programs like this one help them stay in touch with their culture.
Radio, she said, is the ideal medium because it costs less than television to produce programming, and it also fits Hispanic culture better.
"A lot of folks would listen to radio as they went to work and on the worksite during the day," she said."For example in Austin, many of the people came out of rural areas and had no opportunity for education and were illiterate in both languages. Radio was perfect because they didn't have the luxury of being able to afford cable or a (newspaper) subscription."
Pulling in an audience
"Tu Compañero Católico" has an audience of about 500,000, said executive producer/project director, Redemptorist Father Gary Ziuraitis, who is also director of communications for the Redemptorists in Rome.
"Tu Compañero Católico" is available on the CCC's website and is pulling in a growing audience, Osman said.
The show was downloaded nearly 94,000 times since it was first hosted on the site in 2007. Communication from the stations also indicates that the show has recently started airing over stations in Mexico, Chile and Colombia -- a surprise for what was intended to be a program for U.S. audiences.
"In addition to the evangelization and helpful information, I hope it gets them to their faith home, their local Catholic Church," Father Ziuraitis said.."
Casting a necessary net
The CCC has provided "Pas Mande'm Kont" $61,000 in total for the past three years. "Tu Compañero Católico" has received about $200,000 for six years. "Pas Mande'm Kont" is not seeking additional funding but will air its 96 20-minute episodes as repeats, Father Bélanger said.
However, he and the show's producer, Father Desinord Jean, along with other Radio Soleil members, are discussing other ideas for which they hope to seek funding.
"Tu Compañero Católico" hopes to receive additional funding for its operations from the CCC, Father Ziuraitis said.
"Their continued support demonstrates confidence and trust in our program on a national level," he said.
"Along with our Redemptorist funding, the CCC funding has enabled us to serve many member bishops of the USCCB who would not be able to provide this type of media service in their own diocese because of a lack of resources.
"(The funding) says that everyone in leadership in the Church realizes that our program is a necessary net of evangelization cast into the salted ocean of need for our Hispanic Catholic immigrant brothers and sisters."
Osman isn't sure if additional funding is slated for "Tu Compañero Católico." Any communication proposal must be submitted anew each year.
"The bishops are working on a long-term strategic plan, and one element is cultural diversity," she said. "We hope there are more proposals in Spanish because more and more members of the American Catholic Church are Spanish-speaking. We certainly encourage people who have carefully planned and thought-through projects that serve this wonderful changing mosaic of Catholicism."
"Pas Mande'm Kont"
Language: Haitian Creole
Airs: Radio Soleil and eight other stations in Haiti
Producer: Fr. Desinord Jean
Content: 96 20-minute episodes of a radio drama
"Tu Compañero Católico"
Airs: 75 radio stations and the Catholic Channel on Sirius satellite network
Producer: Fr. Gary Ziuraitis
Content: 30 minutes shows dealing with health, the law, spiritual advice, music and humor
Shera Dalin writes from St. Louis.