On a mission to get religious cable network Catholics campaign: Parishioners are writing letters and posting bulletin board messages in their campaign to persuade Comcast to add the Alabama-based service to its lineup.

November 19, 1995|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

When Julie Wilson moved to Laurel a year ago from Montgomery County, the devout Roman Catholic quickly noticed something missing from Comcast Cablevision's lineup in the county: the Eternal Word Television Network.

"I miss it," Mrs. Wilson said of the country's largest religious cable network, which she watched in Montgomery County. "It's a channel that's pretty enriching and has good values."

She and other parishioners from Howard County have mounted a campaign to get Comcast to offer the religious network, which was founded by and features Mother Mary Angelica, a 72-year-old nun from Alabama.

Their efforts include a letter-writing campaign to Comcast officials, bulletin board messages urging parishioners to seek the addition of the channel and the distribution of brochures about EWTN.

"It could feed a lot of people spiritually," said Mrs. Wilson, a member of St. Mary of the Mills Catholic Church in Prince George's County.

Comcast officials have not decided whether to add the EWTN. That will depend in part on demand for the network.

"It's under consideration. At the moment, that's all we can say," said David Nevins, Comcast spokesman. "I know we've gotten a handful of letters and probably a like amount of phone calls. We certainly know there is some interest in adding that channel."

The 24-hour network -- seen in more than 40 million homes in the United States and in 25 other countries -- features live Masses, children's cartoons and other spiritual programming.

Its on-air stars include Mother Angelica, who established the network in 1981 and has since become a broadcasting phenomenon. Wearing her habit, the grandmotherly woman sits in front of a camera talking about religion and life and taking phone calls.

"The purpose of the network is to teach the faith and give hope to people today of all denominations," said Mother Angelica, abbess of Our Lady of the Angels Franciscan Monastery in Irondale, Ala.

She said her viewers include Catholics and non-Catholics.

Comcast offers a few programs a week from EWTN to its 150,000 Baltimore County subscribers. United Artists cable offers the channel to its Baltimore subscribers.

Comcast does not offer any EWTN programming to its fewer than 50,000 subscribers in Howard, which is home to a growing Catholic population that numbered 32,629 in 1990.

Marynell Ford, EWTN's senior vice president, said she is not surprised by the grass-roots campaign to add the channel in Howard County. She said it is not uncommon for people to request the network from their cable companies once they have seen it.

Sally Yates of Laurel may be typical. She first saw the network's programming while visiting her sister in North Carolina and later agreed to help Mrs. Wilson in her quest to bring the network to Howard County. Lately, she has been passing out information about the network at St. Francis of Assisi Mission in Columbia.

"We can have Catholic TV here," Mrs. Yates said. "It's a choice."

Mrs. Wilson praised Comcast for offering EWTN programming in the county during Pope John Paul II's recent visit to Baltimore. "It may have given people a little taste of it," she said.

She plans to keep up the pressure on Comcast to offer the network to its Howard subscribers. "I think there are a lot of Catholics who are ready to learn more about their faith," she said.

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