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TeleMATER: reaching out to Italian-speaking Catholics in the US

TeleMATER marks its seventh anniversary providing Italian-speaking Catholics spiritually enriching television broadcasts.

In New York the lights on Broadway will not be the only ones to be dimmed because of Covid restrictions. While struggling with many difficulties, even Christian communities will experience the difficulty of not being able to meet in person, and the preventive measures making it impossible to celebrate the Eucharist in the usual way. In addition to taking care of difficult situations and the most vulnerable people, the parishes of the metropolis are seeking new ways to bring the sounds and images of the Eucharistic celebration into peoples’ homes so as to offer them at least a virtual participation via technology.

Italians residing in the Big Apple will be able to attend this year's Christmas Mass, thanks to Telemater, a broadcaster that originated from an idea of Father Walter Tonelotto, a Scalabrinian missionary. His idea was further developed by a group of young professionals from Italy who, on Christmas Eve 2013, transmitted the first broadcast from Lady of Pompeii Church in the heart of Manhattan.

Broadcasting Holy Mass celebrated by Fr Tarcisio Andro, St Matthias Parish, Ridgewood, NY
Broadcasting Holy Mass celebrated by Fr Tarcisio Andro, St Matthias Parish, Ridgewood, NY

After beginning as a channel dedicated to the spiritual needs of the parish, Telemater developed rapidly, making the Sunday Holy Mass and the Pope's Angelus available. These became appointments that many awaited and followed. Some Catholic-inspired cable channels such as Queens Public Television, Net TV and TeleCare began to include the Sunday Eucharistic celebration in Italian in their schedules as well, thus introducing little Telemater to a national television market. They reached a potential audience of 20 million when TeleCare (15 million) and NET TV (5 million) relaunched the transmission of Holy Mass and QPTV (Queens Public Television 800 thousand) aired 2 hours of their schedule twice week.

In the third phase of its growth, Telemater reduced program production, due to rising production costs, and opened a social media presence which allowed them to interact with a younger audience from different parts of the world. Telemater’s attention to the world of youth and new languages led them to produce a docufilm on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. This production was  also used during the 2016 World Youth Day vigil in Krakow.

Fr Walter Tonelotto being interviewed by Nick Signorello
Fr Walter Tonelotto being interviewed by Nick Signorello

Currently, Telemater is experiencing an unexpected fourth evolution. Once again on Christmas, seven years after that first night on which Father Walter Tonelotto broadcast the first images in streaming, thanks to the decisive support of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Bishop Nicholas Di Marzio, the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Williamsburg will be made available for the transmission of various liturgical celebrations.

“I offer my blessings and my support to Telemater, Bishop Di Marzio stated in a video message. “It is a huge help here in the United States for people who speak Italian to preserve their faith, language and culture. May the Lord bless those who work there and help them in their work”.

Camera shot inside Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NY)
Camera shot inside Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NY)

The contribution of some native Italian-speaking priests was fundamental in this phase. Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello and Father Alessandro Linardi of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn are two such priests.

Msgr. David Cassato, diocesan coordinator for the pastoral care of Italians, even offered to organize a minibus and a driver to provide transportation of the faithful to the services. He underlined his confidence in the broadcaster's evangelizing mission: “Telemater is a wonderful resource for the lives of many people in continuing their mission here to make the Gospel known to many, many people. It is probably the best gift for so that many, many Italians here in the United States can live their faith in their own native language”.

“As in all the Madonna’s works,” said Father Walter Tonelotto in a message sent to the broadcaster, “from a small and humble beginning we too are moving on to open up to all the ends of the earth. Blessed Scalabrini said: ‘The Lord has sprinkled the sky with stars and the earth with Italians’. Today, more than ever, also due to the pandemic, Telemater wants to reach all these Italians with the light of faith, with the joy of our land and the pride of still being a beacon of culture for future generations”.

22 December 2020, 09:57