May 13-19, 2004
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Catholic TV Reaches Out to Sick, Homebound to Join in the Celebration of Mass
Jim Funson, a Syracuse diocesan employee since 1984, talked recently about the changes he has seen over the years in his job as director of Catholic Television. The program was started in 1979 as part of the religious education program and was formatted as a public access talk show. Diocesan employees were invited to talk about current issues and general topics of the Catholic Faith. As the series became more popular, the crew took the show on the road and visited various parishes throughout the diocese. “We once traveled to SUNY Cortland and did a two part, two-hour-long show on cults,” said Funson. “Father James Labar was the moderator and there were 17 guests in attendance.” The crew also traveled to Le Moyne College to tape Bishop Thomas Costello’s talk show.
Danielle Cummings, director of communications for the diocese, remembers the days when Bishop Costello spoke to the people of Syracuse through the medium of television. “He’s similar to other TV personalities that I’ve worked with in that you could give him a rundown of the show and the script 20 minutes before we taped and he’d have it memorized,” said Cummings. “His timing was impeccable.” Cummings said that Catholic Television provided the venue for people to talk about Catholic issues in the diocese. Notable guests of Bishop Costello’s show included Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking; Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity; and peace activist Daniel Berrigan.
In addition to airing talk shows, Catholic Television provided coverage for major events and celebrations in the Diocese of Syracuse. “During our first year of production, we taped the Christmas Mass with Bishop Frank Harrison,” said Funson. The installations of Bishops O’Keefe and Moynihan were also televised as well as Bishop O’Keefe’s funeral. “The installation of Bishop O’Keefe and Bishop Moynihan was sent by satellite to New York City,” said Deacon Charles O’Connor, who worked with Catholic Television for 10 years. “We also covered the installations of the two most recent bishops of Ogdensburg and sent those to New York City as well,” he added. Now, Catholic Television reaches out to an estimated 100,000 people in homes, hospitals, and nursing homes when it airs 21 times each weekend. Deacon O’Connor said that the Catholic programming is on nine different Time Warner stations as well as the three major networks. “We are covered from the Canadian border to the Pennsylvania border and from Herkimer County to Monroe County,” said Deacon O’Connor. “When Time Warner buys another cable company, we go with them.”
These days, the program focuses on bringing Mass to the shut-ins and infirmed. It provides a valuable service to those who want to worship but are unable to attend church. The first Masses were filmed at Channel 5 in Syracuse. When the station discontinued doing religious filming, the Masses were filmed at different churches on a rotating basis. “With the permission of Bishop O’Keefe, we filmed the first Mass at St. Theresa’s in Syracuse,” said Deacon O’Connor. “It turned out so successful, we started filming Masses throughout the diocese. It gives the people the opportunity to revisit their church and gives them a chance to see a priest they know,” said Deacon O’Connor. “It makes it very personal.” When the producers and crew of the program got the go-ahead to film Masses throughout the diocese, they bought a used ambulance to transport the equipment to the different parishes. “It was with the help of Father Richard Kopp and Father Edward Reimer that the whole thing got started,” said Deacon O’Connor. “Father Kopp was instrumental in getting the funds we needed and air time on different stations.” Bob Connelly, who will be ordained a permanent deacon in June, took over as coordinator of Catholic Television two years ago. He agrees that reaching out to the home-bound is important and appreciated. “I see it as a connection for those who can’t make it to Mass,” said Connelly. “It’s a connection for the church as a whole as well as the individual parishes.” Connelly said that when the crew films at any church, they try to focus on something that is specific and unique to that church so that those watching can identify their parish. “We focus on a statue, the stained glass windows, or the choir. That way, someone lying in a hospital bed can recognize their church,” he said.
Connelly said that the parishes look at this as a chance to evangelize –– to show what their parish has to offer. “We [the crew] have been greeted by people offering us sandwiches, salads, and meals. We have even been taken out to dinner after filming the Mass,“ said Connelly. “It gives the parish an opportunity to put their best foot forward.” Father Paul Angelicchio, pastor of Our Lady of Pompei Church in Syracuse, welcomes the TV staff into his church to film the Masses. “Any time you can bring the message to people who can’t attend Mass it’s important,” said Father Angelicchio. “It is important to convey the message to those who are at home that Jesus loves them and they are not forgotten.” Father Angelicchio said that the viewers also get the opportunity to see the church that they may have helped build and see which pastor is currently serving there. “I have received letters and phone calls from people who saw the Mass thanking me,” said Father Angelicchio. “Once I said something grammatically incorrect on TV and got a letter from an English teacher correcting me,” he said. When the TV crew travels to a parish, they film three Masses at a time. The priest has 28 minutes and 30 seconds to celebrate the Mass from beginning to end. “Some pastors who have done this for years, have a clock in their head,” said Connelly. “They require very little prompting. Some of the newer ones, you have to give them a little more time.” Connelly said that because of the short timeline of filming, the priest’s homily can only run about four or five minutes. “A lot of people like that,” joked Connelly. “They ask me if we can come every week to keep the pastor to that schedule.”
Due to the increasing popularity of Catholic Television among people in the diocese, Cummings hopes to enhance and expand the programs offered. “My goal is to again produce local Catholic programming that will highlight the unique ministries and services offered throughout the diocese,” she said. “It brings the church to people who can’t come. We have media now. By bringing the Mass to those who can’t attend –– we are evangelizing,” said Father Angelicchio. “That’s what we are all about.”
Catholic Television is made possible through funding by the HOPE Appeal.