Raymond Arroyo, an internationally recognized, award-winning journalist, delivered a lecture entitled “The Big Way of Mother Angelica – Life Lessons of an Outspoken Contemplative Abbess” on April 3 at Christendom College as part of the College’s Major Speakers Program.
Arroyo is seen each week in more than 100 million homes around the globe on his weekly international news magazine, “The World Over Live,” shown on EWTN. Prior to his work on EWTN, Arroyo worked for the Associated Press, the political columnist team of Evans and Novak, and as a Capitol Hill Correspondent. As the host and creator of “The World Over Live,” Arroyo has interrogated the leading figures of the day. Highlights include the first, exclusive, sit down interview with Mel Gibson on the set of his controversial film, “The Passion of the Christ” and a landmark interview with Pope Benedict XVI: the first and only English language conversation recorded with the pontiff.
A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Arroyo is the author of the newly released New York Times Bestseller Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve and a Network of Miracles published by Doubleday.
“Mother Angelica is an incredibly amazing woman,” began Arroyo. “Born Rita Rizzo in 1923 amid very dire circumstances, rejected by her father, abandoned by him at five years old and left in the care of an unstable mother, Mother is a woman who God used to do incredible things, most especially the founding of the largest religious media empire on the planet: The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).”
Arroyo first began thinking about writing the story of Mother Angelica in 1999. Over the years, he had heard different stories about her life and thought that others might be interested in reading about her as well. He approached Mother, who at first was a little uneasy about the concept, but after some prayerful reflection decided to go along with Arroyo’s idea.
“Over the course of three years I conducted interviews with her just about every Saturday morning from 1999 to 2001,” he said. “She made available to me her letters, her archives, her diaries, her very potent, at times difficult and hard memories, her friends, her sister, her physicians. As we got into it she revealed so much more than I ever anticipated and I think it has made for a richer book, a more complex book, and certainly more truthful. In the final analysis, when you look at the story, what it proves is that sanctity is possible without perfection. That God uses often our weaknesses and our wounds to his purposes if we’re willing to, if we’re open to his inspirations.”
At the end of the three year period, Arroyo called Mother and told her that he thought they were finished with their weekly interviews and that in the future he would just contact her on an as-needed basis to get any future updates. And as providence would have it, just days later she went into her convent for her Advent retreat and on Christmas Eve of that year of 2001, she was felled by a debilitating stroke accompanied by a cerebral hemorrhage that really sealed her memory and stilled her speech.
“I often think had I hesitated following up on the little inspiration I had in ’99 or had she hesitated and not cooperated, much of the story would have been lost,” recalled Arroyo. “She told me so many little bits of information that I would have never been able to know otherwise. Divine Providence is really at the heart of this story and at the heart of the writing of this story.”
At one point during the writing of the book Mother Angelica told Arroyo: “I wish you forty years in Purgatory if you sugarcoat my life. I want the people to see the humanity so they realize God did everything.” So, in an effort to keep out of Purgatory, Arroyo says that he told the full story, even though is was hard at times.
“We see a woman here who is wounded; who has failings and difficulties. She can be tempestuous at times, just like us. I think that’s why the book has caught on. I think that’s why people are so drawn to it–she is an accessible person who achieved sanctity and great feats with God’s help. That’s an incredibly tantalizing story. And that’s what they’re reacting to,” he said.
Arroyo contends that Mother was a fighter and definitely a defender of the faith.
“And these people are not always well thought of at the moment. In time, though, I have no doubt that we will all look back and realize the great contribution this woman made, not only to the Church but in secular terms. This is the first woman in the history of television to found a not-for-profit cable network. The only woman in the history of television to create a network that for 25 years has sustained itself only with the donations of her audience. That is a singular achievement in television. PBS has government subsidies. Other Christian networks charge the people that appear on the airwaves and the cable operators fees.”
When she launched into the world of cable, Mother Angelica was 58 years old with diabetes, a bloated heart, a twisted spine, and two lame legs and only $200 in the bank.
“The woman had everything going against her, but at the end of the day there is no way this woman would have been capable of doing what she’s done without God working through her. It’s bittersweet. But it’s probably more sweet than bitter. You know–she’s fully a cloistered nun and that’s what she vowed to do anyway. The television was, I think, a momentary sidetrack that God called her to. But, it was not, and never was, the center of her life–it was her work,” he concluded.