If you're one of the millions of Americans who tune out today's sleazy, phony “reality-TV” programs, here's good news: Real reality-TV is here.

“Vatican TV” is coming to the Americas for the first time, thanks to the Vatican's new “CTV to America” project. The Centro Televisivo Vaticano (Vatican Television Center) under director general Msgr. Ugo Moretto, can now broadcast to many TV stations in North and South America by direct satellite linkup, bypassing expensive intermediate hookups necessary in the past.

Inaugurating an uplink earth station that telecasts via digital satellites, CTV sent its first direct show to the Americas on Jan. 7: Mass in the Sistine Chapel for the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, at which Pope John Paul II baptized 18 babies from around the globe.

With the new service from Vatican Television, most networks in North and South America can now access live papal programming, and at no cost.

The scope of CTV to America's programming here is to be relatively modest, at least at first. CTV will transmit the Pope's Sunday midday Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square, live, followed by “Octava Dies/Vatican Weekly Magazine,” according to Msgr. Moretto. On Wednesdays the service will transmit a recording of the Holy Father's general-audience address.

Plans are in the works for expanded programming. “This live feed with top-quality images is a first step,” says Msgr. Moretto. He wants to send America more of the 150 papal events that Vatican Television covers in an average year. “We would like to broadcast as well the papal visits worldwide, and news of the Holy Father's daily activities,” he says.

“There is also the possibility of broadcasting concerts, shows and the catechesis meetings that are frequently organized in Rome,” says Msgr. Moretto. “All those who are willing to spread the messages of the Pope and to give direct information concerning the activities of the Holy Father and the Holy See are interested exactly in this kind of service.”

Audience in Waiting

For now, the CTV to America signal reaches just the eastern half of the United States. It also reaches much of eastern Canada, as well as two large areas in South America. Msgr. Moretto says the service will “investigate new possibilities” to retransmit the feed from the East to the West Coast in the United States.

He adds that, with the input of Archbishop John Foley, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, he will present a plan for the CTV to America project to the council's plenary meeting, which is scheduled for March.

Msgr. Moretto has got some good support. In his message for World Communications Day this May 27, Pope John Paul II will extol “satellite telecasts of religious ceremonies which often reach a global audience.” (His statement for the occasion was released Jan. 24.) The Holy Father will cite such broadcasts as “unique opportunities for proclaiming the saving truth of Christ to the whole human family.”

Using the theme “proclaim from the housetops” (see Matthew 10:27), the Pope will note the “forest of transmitters and antennae” atop houses nowadays and say, “To proclaim the faith from the housetops today means to speak Jesus' word in and through the dynamic world of communications.”

Reaction to the new availability of papal events on live TV in the United States has so far been positive. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, deputy director for media relations at the U.S. Catholic Conference's department of communications in Washington, D.C., says, “We've received information about CTV and look forward to ways in which we can assist.”

“Making live TV from the Vatican easily accessible and free in the Americas is a great step by CTV,” says Corinne Vause, a communications consultant and retired professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “This kind of programming will help TV viewers survive spiritual dangers, which are a lot more real than the dangers on ‘reality’ TV.”

Rome, U.S.

Doug Keck, vice president of production and programming at the Eternal Word Television Network in Birmingham, Ala., says, “EWTN plans to use the new service during the Pope's upcoming Feb. 21 consistory [which creates new cardinals] to bring live coverage of the event to our TV viewers and radio listeners.”

“The advantage for us, or technically for any TV station in the United States,” adds Keck, “will be the ability to more directly access Church events from Rome without having to make special costly arrangements.”

Giving the viewing public easy access to Church events is important, says Msgr. Moretto. “A constant broadcasting of the Holy Father's activities,” he says, is “direct information of utmost usefulness for gaining better insight into the life and teaching of the Church, as well as activities of the Holy See.”

Keck says, “Certainly, CTV has taken a major leap forward in its efforts to get the Pope's message out to the world, and specifically the Americas.”

CTV, according to the center's statute, helps spread the Gospel by using television to document the Pope's pastoral ministry and the activities of the Apostolic See.

Besides doing live broadcasts of special events inside the Vatican, CTV covers the Pope's daily activities and distributes its footage to the media on request. The center also produces documentaries on the Pope's pontificate, the Vatican, and Rome's basilicas.

Additionally, CTV maintains a 10,000-cassette video archive of the Holy Father's activities since 1984. A computerized filing system makes it possible to retrieve items by subject matter, date and so on.

Getting out the Pope's message is at the heart of the Vatican Television Center's mission, Msgr. Moretto adds. The center's statute says that Pope John Paul II set it up (in 1983) “with the aim of contributing to the universal proclamation of the Gospel.”

The statute also says that the center's duty is to “promote the presence of the Apostolic See in the television and audiovisual field throughout the world.”

Dan Engler writes from Santa Barbara, California