TORONTO — Drawn from Matthew 5:13-14, the phrase “Salt and Light” became the banner for World Youth Day 2002, which in late July of that year drew to Toronto nearly 200,000 young people from throughout Canada, the United States and 172 other nations. These young pilgrims were inspired by the experience of sharing their Catholic faith with each other and with an elderly man who had dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel.
Pope John Paul II, the founder and former “star” of the biannual international gatherings, did not live to celebrate a subsequent World Youth Day. Yet his legacy to young people — and the creative nexus of youthful enthusiasm and mature vision — live on in Toronto five years later, also under the banner of Salt and Light.
Operating from a modest studio in downtown Toronto, the Salt†Light Television Network began broadcasting 24-hour, non-commercial Catholic programming to Canadian cable-TV subscribers in 2003, not long after its chief operating officer, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, had concluded his duties as director of World Youth Day 2002.
“This project is clearly a tribute to and a legacy of Pope John Paul II, and World Youth Day was the wind beneath our wings,” remarked Father Rosica, a native Rochesterian who also serves as second councilor of the Basilian order.
Initially available only in the Toronto area, the network is now carried by cable and satellite TV services that cover Canada coast to coast. Its programs — in English, French, some Italian and, most recently, a single show in Mandarin and Cantonese — are available to nearly a half-million Canadian homes, primarily as a low-cost pay-cable channel. A limited amount of Salt†Light programming also can be seen in the United States (see box).
Although Pope John Paul II was the network’s inspiration, it was another elder Catholic who provided the vision and funding to get Salt†Light off the ground.
Gaetano Gagliano — an Italian immigrant who built the print shop he started in his basement 50 years ago into Canada’s third-largest communications company — long dreamed of using media to help spread the Gospel, according to his son.
“It was always one of his dreams to help bring Catholics closer to their faith using mass media,” said Tony Gagliano, chief executive officer of St. Joseph Communications, a family owned company that has given $15 million in support of the network. “He believed media can be used in a beautiful way and that not enough people are using them that way.”
Although his roots were in printing and publishing, Gaetano Gagliano, whose 90th birthday is this summer, chose to start a Catholic TV network because “there was not enough Catholic broadcast content; the medium was not being used enough by the church,” his son said.
Brother-in-law Rudy DeSiato agreed. “For the Catholic Church to ignore a powerful medium like television was not what St. Paul would have done,” said DeSiato, vice president of both St. Joseph Communications and the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. “We have this treasure which is the Gospel, which is God who came to earth. … How can we keep a lid on that?”
For many years, regulatory roadblocks to single-faith channels had precluded the establishment of a Catholic TV network in Canada, explained DeSiato, who promotes the network among such ecclesial movements as the Neocatechumenal Way, to which he’s belonged for 20 years.
In 2001, however, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued a license for Inner Peace Television Network, whose founders also had acquired exclusive Canadian broadcast rights to programming from the Vatican Television Center.
St. Joseph Communications purchased a 51 percent stake in Inner Peace in March 2002 and later bought out the founders’ remaining interest. Once they controlled the station’s broadcast license, the Gaglianos began soliciting suggestions about who would be the right person to lead the network they envisioned, and Father Rosica’s name soon emerged. The family arranged a one-hour meeting with the priest just before he went to Rome to present his final World Youth Day report to Pope John Paul II. Father Rosica accepted the family’s proposal six days later, Gagliano said.
That’s when youth and maturity once again combined with unforeseen success.
“It’s amazing. If you had seen (the network) three or four years ago, you would have doubted that the station would continue. The hands of God are really here,” DeSiato said, also crediting S†L’s success to the efforts of Father Rosica and his staff.
The priest had been director of the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto at the time of his appointment to direct World Youth Day 2002, and decided to staff his WYD organization primarily with young adults, most of them scarcely out of college. He applied the same philosophy to staffing Salt†Light TV, and many of the current staff came to the network through their participation in World Youth Day.
“My policy has always been that you entrust an initiative to young people, believe in them and work along with them,” Father Rosica explained. “A lot of people in the church want to do things for young people, but unless the young people take ownership, it won’t work.”
Richard Valenti, a former WYD volunteer for his Toronto parish, had just earned a degree in digital media when he became one of Salt†Light’s first staff members in 2003.
“I opened the first camera box and turned on the first editing system,” he recalled with obvious pride.
At that time, the network’s programming consisted of feeds from Vatican TV and rebroadcasts of others’ shows. He said his initial responsibility was creating station-identification clips to insert between the canned material.
Gita Hosek, one of the few Salt†Light staff members over the age of 40, watched some of those early broadcasts.
“The message was there, but professionally it was lacking,” recalled Hosek, who brought to her role as S†L’s director of programming and production more than 20 years of experience in producing documentaries for secular networks in Canada and in her native Czechoslovakia.
In 1996, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops had hired Hosek to produce two documentary films written by Father Rosica. When she re-established contact eight years later to congratulate him on his new job at Salt†Light, the priest persuaded her to join the network’s staff — at a bare-minimum salary.
“People are not here for money,” she said. “We have a mission. We believe in what we do, and we are very proud of the result.
“There is a miracle happening here every day, every single day,” she continued, explaining that limited financial resources stretch the staff’s creativity in producing quality broadcasting. “People here are putting their faith and heart and love in every frame.”
About one-third of the network’s programming is produced in-house, with another third coming from Vatican TV and the Italian TelePace network, and the balance derived from exchanges with other Catholic producers. S†L currently has no budget to purchase programming.
“We love what we do and we believe in it, but it’s tough,” Hosek observed. “Fundraising for Catholic television is not an easy task.”
The network began with public-affairs and interview shows; more recently it has begun producing documentary films on such topics as the Holy Land, the saints and euthanasia.
Tony Gagliano said producing documentaries is the aspect of S†L about which he’s most excited.
“I see the TV network as being only a component of Salt†Light’s work,” he remarked, adding that he looks forward to S†L producing dozens of award-winning documentaries each year for distribution worldwide.
Hosek noted that S†L’s three-person delegation to the inaugural World Congress of Catholic Television in Madrid last October was recognized “for the high quality of production values in our shows.” The network’s participation in the Vatican-sponsored congress may facilitate more programming exchanges and also revealed an opportunity to draw worldwide attention to the S†L network.
According to Inside the Vatican magazine, the Catholic online news service Zenit announced during the congress that it plans to launch H2O News, a new multilingual television service developed in cooperation with Vatican agencies. Hosek and Father Rosica said S†L recently was invited to provide H2O’s English and French components.
This “will take the news dimension we already have and enhance it; it will really thrust us onto the world stage,” the CEO observed.
A few of the young fgaces on S+L Television
Producer Gillian Kantor
Gillian Kantor began volunteering and later working for World Youth Day 2002 while working at the children’s wildlife magazine Wild. After WYD, she took a job as youth editor with Canada’s national Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Register, in Toronto. She also kept in touch with former WYD Director Father Tom Rosica.
Eventually Father Rosica and Register Publisher/Editor Joseph Sinasac struck a deal for Kantor to forge a relationship between the two media outlets by splitting her time between the newspaper and the TV station. Slowly, as that relationship matured and needed less nurturing, she shifted into a full-time position at S+L.
“I was so attracted by what’s happening here, by the growth and the opportunities — not just for us working here but also for Catholic media in Canada,” she said.
“Everyone’s really young here,” she acknowledged. “But we’re getting older now, and as we grow, the station is maturing.”
Kantor’s attraction to WYD 2002 was borne of her experiences as a pilgrim to World Youth Day 2000 in Rome.
“It was such an amazing experience to be among that many young people all cheering and believing in the same thing,” she said, adding that she wanted to give that experience to others in 2002.
She said she was reluctant at first to get involved in Catholic media.
“I was hesitant about mixing my faith and journalism,” she recalled. “But once I got into it and the stories of people — individual Catholics expressing their faith — that’s what drove me in my work for the Register and in the projects I choose to work on at S+L. It’s the people and their stories — that’s what I love to tell.”
Kantor has contributed episodes on such themes as the elderly, planning a Catholic funeral and parish reconfiguration to S+L’s public-affairs program “Catholic Focus,” and just finished her first 13-episode season of the literature series “Word for Word.” Recently married, she is now in the research/interview phase of a 13-episode show to be called “Mothering.”
Associate Producer Matthew Harrison
Matthew Harrison assists in the production of programs and also is responsible for the blog on the S+L Web site.
Harrison studied radio and television at Toronto’s Ryerson University, then worked in broadcast news with Canadian Press. After three years in the seminary, he began working for S+L in October 2006.
“I wanted to be a part of the new evangelization … and get the Gospel out and win hearts to Christ,” said Harrison, one of the few S+L staffers without any connection to WYD 2002.
In addition to his blogging responsibilities, Harrison works with producer Gillian Kantor on “Catholic Focus” and “Word for Word.”
One of his story ideas for “Catholic Focus” was to go to New York City for the Path to Peace conference at the United Nations. He will work on development of this story throughout the summer for a fall airdate. At the end of May, he completed a project on the Catholic agency Christian Child Care International.
Producer Mary Rose Bacani
Rose Bacani made her way to S+L as a result of “one of the moments in my life when I felt a call.”
Nearing completion of her undergraduate program at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., Bacani was planning to go on to law school. Yet she had always loved writing, and family and friends had suggested she had a perfect voice for radio and the “presence” for TV.
So when she learned that a friend of a friend was working in the control room of a new Catholic television network in Toronto, she “just popped in” at the S+L studios — dressed in jeans and a hoodie — to have a look around. Her unusual approach got the attention of S+L management, and she was soon offered a job.
The child of a “ritualistically Catholic” Filipino family, she previously had been a first-degree member of Regnum Christi. Bacani said she had entered consecrated life in the order “not so much because I loved the Lord but because I wanted to love him.” Noting that the order’s members are “women so in love with God,” she said she found herself unable to “grasp the reality of consecrated life.”
Although she finds working at S+L “much more real,” Bacani acknowledged that her experience in Regnum Christi “definitely got me on the road to prayer."
“I didn’t have a faith life before Regnum Christi," she continued. "To survive at S+L you have to have a strong faith life. As someone told me, you can’t give what you don’t have.”
Bacani said she loves “bringing images and words together creatively to touch people. It’s part of my joy to tell Catholics they’re not alone. … It’s the art and the satisfaction that I made a difference.”
She currently is working on a proposal for a free-form series tentatively called “Life from A to Z,” which would utilize contributions from correspondents around Canada as it moves through the alphabet, highlighting different objects, places or people and how they relate to the faith.
Bacani also worked as co-host of “S+L Magazine,” but said she finds talk shows somewhat stressful and that she prefers working on documentaries that tell people’s stories.
“My faith is a heart thing,” she said.
How to watch S+L Television
Residents of the Diocese of Rochester can sample some S+L programming at www.saltandlighttv.org, which features promotional clips of all current shows as well as streaming video of some complete episodes. The site also features a daily, five-minute news broadcast called "Zoom."
DVDs of S+L documentaries are available for sale in the Web site’s S+L Boutique area. Some of the network’s documentaries also appear periodically in the U.S. on the Eternal Word Television Network (www.ewtn.org).
For more information on S+L, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416,971-5353 or toll-free 888/302-7181.