Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Media Apostle: the Canadian Catholic TV Magnate

"You could really tell he was Alberione's protege," Sister Donna just remarked. She was talking about Gaetano Gagliano, the humble but dynamic Italian immigrant behind Salt+Light (think: Canadian EWTN) who died this week.

I had known about Mr. Gagliano, but only in tidbits: that he had been an aspirant in the Society of St Paul as a youngster in Italy, but had to return home (twice!) because of ill health (yet he would live to 98). That years later he emigrated to Canada with his growing family and eventually started a printing company named after St Joseph (it became the largest communications company in the nation). And that he never forgot Father Alberione and his dreams of evangelizing the world through communications media.

Two weeks ago I was at a conference with Father Thomas Rosica of Salt+Light TV. He mentioned that he had had no background in media (in fact, he is a Scripture scholar) until shortly after the Toronto World Youth Day in 2002, and that Salt+Light came, in some way, from that event....

That's because just about then, Mr. Gagliano had a vision (maybe he spoke of it the way Alberione referred to such experiences, as a "dream"). His boyhood mentor, Father Alberione, gave the  successful (and by now elderly) businessman a job to do. So Gagliano met with the priest who had headed the World Youth Day event and proposed that he start a Catholic TV network. It was vintage Alberione: getting someone with absolutely no professional training to undertake a new initiative for the Gospel. Father Rosica tried to brush it off. He was a professor, not a producer. But when he went to the Vatican shortly afterward, a long, detailed fax (this was 2002) was there, waiting for him. And after his meeting with Pope John Paul II and the reports of the World Youth Day event, the priest mentioned the outlandish proposal about TV. (The Pope told him to go with it.)

Father Rosica, the scripture scholar with no TV background, is now the CEO of Salt+Light, Canada's first Catholic TV network (it now reaches 160 countries and broadcasts in five languages).  Six years after Mr. Gagliano's first conversation, the Vatican tapped Father Rosica as English language media laisan for the Synod of Bishops (fittingly, the topic was on the bible and the Church);  he performed the same service for the 2012, 2014 and 2015 Synods.  Meanwhile, he was appointed a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and later joined the Press Office for the Holy See. But it is Gaetano Gagliano, the "failed seminarian," who is acknowledged as the Founder of Salt+Light TV.

Just weeks after the death of Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN, another American media apostle has been called home. These pioneers recognized the power of media, not only for harm, but for good. They did not wait for others to lay the groundwork for them: they accepted the challenge of doing what they could to make what Alberione called "the most rapid and fruitful instruments" available for the spread of the Gospel. May they rest in peace, and may we not rest while time is still ours.

Biography of the Founder of Salt+Light TV.
Newspaper article with the whole story.
Father Rosica's homily for Gaetano Gagliano's funeral Mass this morning.

You haven't seen the Alberione documentary Media Apostle yet? No more excuses! Watch it online right here:

Media Apostle (90 min): The Father James Alberione Story from Pauline Books and Media.

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