Mother Angelica, the foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), has died, fittingly on Easter Sunday. She had been incapacitated for some years by a stroke. There is an account of her achievements, and her deep commitment to God and the Church here.
Mother Angelica stands in that great tradition of formidable nuns who got things done, a woman of great drive and energy, just like Mother Cabrini and many others before her. How much we owe these wonderful Sisters! Mother Angelica had a sense of humour, she was deeply orthodox, and she showed that the tradition of the Catholic Church has plenty of vitality. She was disliked by all the right people, and recognised as the genuine article by the Catholic faithful the world over.
Highly traditional, she was also highly modern. Though born in 1923, by the 1960s she had seen something that few other Catholics recognised at the time: first of all, the Church had to evangelise more, and secondly the Church had to adopt new means of doing so. Hence her desire to set up a monastery in Alabama, at that point a state with a tiny Catholic population. Hence her far-sighted realisation that television and radio were the things of the future. (The Protestant evangelists were spotting this at about the same time.) Long before everyone else started chattering about it, Mother Angelica was going to the margins and actually doing new evangelisation.
Nowadays everyone, more or less, talks about the evangelisation of culture and the use of new means of communication to do so, though this talk quite often masks a distrust of the media. I have often been embarrassed to hear clerics and prelates attacking the media as some sort of anti-Catholic conspiracy. (This is a common idea in Italy, but it is not uncommon in Britain either.) Well, yes, there is a lot of filth in our media, and many media moguls are not the sort of people who one should instinctively trust; and the media is there looking for a good story more than anything else. But, and this is the crucial point, which I am sure Mother Angelica realised, instead of moaning about the media, we need to beat them at their own game. That means producing high-quality stuff that people will actually want to watch, listen to and read.
As part of the reforms initiated by Pope Francis, the Vatican is supposedly getting its media act together, though this seems to be taking a long time. Its current media operation is lamentable. As with the Vatican, so with individual dioceses: they could all take a leaf out of Mother Angelica’s book. She built the largest religious broadcasting service in the world, one that millions follow, from nothing, out of her monastery garage. But, as I have always suspected, if you need to get anything done in the Catholic Church, you need to call in an old-fashioned no-nonsense nun.
From her place in heaven, may Mother Angelica give all those involved in communicating the faith the helping hand of her prayers!
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