BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—While it's customary to receive hearts on Valentine's Day, little did Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network, expect to receive a gift from the Holy Father.

Some observers said the “valentine” had a deeper meaning: a special sign of approbation from Rome.

On Feb. 14 an enormous package arrived at the cable TV channel from the Vatican. “We kept the box in the shrine, on our side of the altar, and did not open it because I wanted to share it with all the people who have been there with us through our 18 years on the air,” Mother Angelica told the Register.

The next day the package was opened on her live show in the presence of the apostolate's sisters, the network's president, vice president and spiritual adviser, and a studio audience. Cable TV viewers worldwide were tuned in.

The package's contents included a 2_-foot high monstrance, used to display the Blessed Sacrament for Benediction and adoration.

The monstrance depicts a large silver heart surrounded by golden rays and topped with Noah's ark. It came in a white linen box bearing a papal seal. Inscriptions inside the box, and on the monstrance itself, were in Polish and could not be translated during Mother Angelica's program. The network has since learned additional information about the monstrance.

According to Mother Angelica, the monstrance was a gift from the people of Nowa Huta, a suburb of Krakow, Poland, during Pope John Paul II's visit in 1999.

An inscription on the monstrance bears the Pope's name and the date of his visit, June 15. “The Holy Father had fallen the day before,” Mother recalled, “and so Cardinal Sodano accepted the monstrance on his behalf. We have footage of that.”

One regular viewer of “Mother Angelica Live” who was watching that night, Linda Gaitely of Cypress, Calif., said the gift was significant.

“It was beautiful for him to entrust something like that to her,” she said. “It really showed that she is a source of unity for the Church in the United States.”

Mark Brumley, managing editor of The Catholic Faith and Catholic Dossier magazines said the gift could also be seen as a comment on EWTN's liturgy.

“No doubt,” he said, “the Holy Father's gift of a monstrance expresses his deep appreciation for the profound commitment that Mother Angelica and her sisters have to a reverential and authentic offering of the sacred liturgy, a commitment manifest in their new chapel and their regularly televised, beautiful celebrations of holy Mass.”

A Mysterious Ark

The most perplexing part of the monstrance, for Mother, was the small golden ark sitting atop the monstrance.

“We did some research,” said Mother Angelica, “and the ark symbolizes not only Noah's ark, but also the Church of the Ark, located in Nowa Huta. It is a church whose construction began while Karol Wojtyla was archbishop of Krakow. The Church was completed entirely by voluntary labor, and took 10 years to build.”

Launched in 1981, EWTN was America's first Catholic cable network. The network now transmits 24 hours per day to more than 55 million homes in 38 countries. Mother Angelica first met the Pope in 1982, just months after beginning EWTN. She has since traveled to Rome several times to provide updates on the global work of the station.

Asked if there was a reason given for the gift, Mother Angelica replied, “It was given in appreciation for the work EWTN is doing for the Church, and for our sisters who have perpetual eucharistic adoration in our shrine of the Blessed Sacrament year-round.” She said the monstrance will be used for Benediction and Corpus Christi processions.

Lisa Gould, vice president of viewer services said on the show, “For the employees here at EWTN, that is the greatest gift we can have. When you work at EWTN, the devil works twice as hard against you. You take away Jesus in the Eucharist and we couldn't survive.”

“I'm just grateful that the Holy Father would think of us,” Mother Angelica concluded in her interview with the Register. “It means so much to us that he would give us something so very dear to him.”