Radio Free Catholicism

What if there were no churches, and no one around you who believed in God? What if you didn’t have a television, a radio, a computer, a smart phone or a tablet? How would you learn that there is a God and that He loves you so much He died for you? You might get lucky and encounter a missionary, but if you live in a third-world country it is much more likely that you will hear the Good News through the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network on a shortwave radio set —  and one that probably belongs not to you, but to the community in which you live!

EWTN Shortwave Radio Tower

EWTN Shortwave Radio Tower

“The kidnapped prisoners in the jungles of Colombia — we know they’re listening to us,” said Doug Archer, director of Spanish-language radio programming. “While they don’t allow their prisoners to have many other things, they do allow them to listen to shortwave radio. We are a source of hope to people in a situation like that. Villages and remote towns in Mexico or the Andes in South America are another place we’ve reached with the Gospel.”

Kaki Owens in EWTN’s Viewer Services Department says it’s amazing how many letters EWTN receives from “all corners of the world.” The most famous example of the power of EWTN’s shortwave broadcasts occurred in 2008 when Ingrid Betancourt, a political candidate for President in Colombia was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, otherwise known as the FARC. “After she was rescued, she said EWTN shortwave radio was her lifeline and salvation,” Archer said. “It inspired her to a deeper conversion during captivity. It’s what gave her hope amidst that whole ordeal.”

Archer said he has pictures of people sitting in a field with their shortwave radio listening to EWTN, and people in a parish community sitting around a shortwave radio and praying the rosary.

Shortwave Antennae Fields

Shortwave Antennae Fields

Thom Price, director of programming and production on the English side said: “We target Africa for eight hours a day, Southeast Asia for two hours a day, the Middle East and Europe for 13 hours a day, and then we use two transmitters to serve South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America on a full-time basis. A lot of people in America don’t understand that shortwave, like AM radio, is not super high fi[delity], but the tradeoff is distance. That’s why you can pick up an AM station in Chicago at night here in Birmingham – because of the way these signals travel. We don’t have relay stations. It all comes from Irondale, Alabama.

“The way it works is that the antenna, which looks like big curtain, puts out a pieshaped wedge [of a signal], that bounces off the ionosphere and comes back down into the target region. We are targeting Africa at hours that people in Africa generally listen; in the evening, after work is done and people have a little more time. If you’re in a remote area in the middle of Brazil, who are you going to listen to? They don’t have TV. That’s their entertainment and their form of communication.”

Archer said that Oswaldo Payá, the founder of the Christian liberation movement in Cuba, was a devout Catholic who was inspired by Catholic beliefs and Catholic social teaching. “We interviewed him a number of times. He often spoke of the impact that EWTN radio was having in Cuba.

EWTN Foundress Mother Angelica gets ready to launch the Network's first shortwave broadcast with EWTN Benefactor Piet Derksen, who made the construction of the shortwave radio station possible!

EWTN Foundress Mother Angelica gets ready to launch the Network’s first shortwave broadcast with EWTN Benefactor Piet Derksen, who made the construction of the shortwave radio station possible!

“We’ve gotten some feedback that the Cuban government isn’t bothered by EWTN and its shortwave broadcast,” Archer continued. “I think part of the reason is that we are never political. We don’t shy away from preaching the Gospel, but we don’t put a political bent on our evangelization into Latin America and Cuba like Radio MartÍ or Voice of America [which aren’t religious]. We speak the truth of the Gospel in the face of oppression and against the dictators and tyrants of the world.”

As Mother Angelica would say, “That’s awesome!”

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4 Responses to Radio Free Catholicism

  1. I wonder if Mother Angelica was broadcasting in the 1980s? Perhaps you can answer that for me.
    I was divorced and living alone in New Jersey. Fiddling with the knob on my little bedside radio at 2 a.m. one morning, a voice came on that brought enormous help to me. I have never forgotten that moment. I am sure it was the voice of Mother Angelica and wonder if it could have been so.

    • mjohnsonewtn says:

      Mother Angelica absolutely was broadcasting in the 1980s — 1981 to be specific! How wonderful to hear that she was a light in the darkness of a difficult time. Let us all pray that Our Lord will use us to help others and we have been helped!

  2. Marcy says:

    I am humbled by reading this. It is amazing. I read in the Washington Post the other day how you will be having a nightly news show in the future and how there isn’t really a place on earth that does not get an EWTN signal somehow. THAT is truly amazing and a work of God. He does work miracles! Amazing what a little nun could do just because she had faith. Imagine what we could do if we have that same faith. Thank you all so much for your hard work!

  3. elizabeth rey says:

    Thank you from Villa Fray Bentos, Rio Negro, Uruguay. I do lose sound sometimes but it was such a blessing for me to see the Conclave. Was able to see Pope Benedict leave the Vatican and see it live. Was able to See Pope Francis live as well. Otherwise I do listen. I look forward to the Wednesday Audience and the morning homilies of Pope Francis. Also looking forward to World Youth Day down here in Rio. I am familiar with Mother Angelica�s good work. From Arcola, Illinois, I traveled to Irondale two times and did meet Mother in the studio.. I have also been to Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Hanceville. And somehow I did get my name on Raymond Arroyo�s fb account. Please be so kind as to keep me on your list. I am clearing land on a farm in the country in Uruguay. It is believed that there will be good service here in northern Uruguay in another year and a half. With love and God�s blessings, Elizabeth Rey Rancho

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