By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published July 7, 2005
Last year Rafael Ortiz-Guzman was busy planning to launch Georgia’s first locally owned and operated Spanish television channel when he felt chest pains, checked into Saint Joseph’s Hospital and learned that he must immediately have heart bypass surgery.
While educated in Catholic schools and raised in the church, the Puerto Rico native, 54, had not been a regular churchgoer as he worked for 19 years at Turner Broadcasting System as a camera operator, earning two regional Emmys.
In 1999 he formed his own Hispanic film and video production company. A few years ago he conceived the idea of a channel featuring local programs for Georgia Hispanics, and melded his company into Georgia TeVe, becoming the CEO. He had considered eventually including a Mass on the channel.
But as he faced the possibility of death and later awoke from surgery, he knew he had to refocus on his faith. A priest at the hospital visited him, and that day everything changed.
“When I was in the hospital I immediately realized how important life is and what it means to a person,” he said. “I immediately realized that if you don’t have faith, you don’t have anything. I promised that if I got out of this I’d do what I’d always wanted to do, to televise the Mass, and go to church every Sunday.”
When he came home from the hospital he felt afraid to look in the mirror and at his chest, but when he awoke at 6 a.m. the next morning and faced his reflection he was startled and comforted to see the presence of his deceased father whom he loved dearly and with whom he shared many personality traits.
“That was the power of God—a revelation.”
As he began his recovery he walked into a church by himself during Mass while the congregation prayed the Our Father, and a man next to him held his hand. He began to weep and continued crying as he returned to his car.
“I said, ‘I’m crying, but something has come into me more divine than life itself.’”
His life “changed tremendously,” and he became more serene and understanding and found that he could relate better to his family and employees, he said, “not that I don’t lose my mind every so often.” He then approached the director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the archdiocese, Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez, and proposed to him the idea of including a local Spanish Mass on the new channel, wanting the Mass to be taking place among the people of Georgia.
“I said it’s my faith, it’s the power of God, what I believe in, and I want to do this no matter what it costs. If we lose money, we’re going to do it anyway.”
Father Duvan welcomed the idea, as he has always envisioned using the media to evangelize the estimated 500,000 Hispanics of North Georgia. For the last few years his office has arranged for a weekly Mass to be broadcast through a local Spanish radio station, 1040AM, on Sundays at 10 a.m. The Colombian priest knew that television could have an even greater impact in building God’s kingdom in North Georgia, by reaching those who are homebound and the many baptized Catholics who have drifted away from the church or have been proselytized by other religions and denominations.
“Having the Mass in Spanish is very important for our archdiocese because we’ll have the opportunity to reach all those in the community who are unable to attend church because of lack of transportation, and those who don’t have a Hispanic priest to celebrate in their parishes. It can also reach others who are in jail or a hospital, the homebound, and those who work on Sundays but have access to television on the job,” said Father Duvan.
When Ortiz-Guzman approached investors with the idea they “loved it” and found the primary backer in Heritage Capital Advisors in Buckhead. But he was less sure whether Comcast would sign on. In January, however, while he was driving to lunch with Father Duvan as they looked at churches, he asked the priest to pray about two minutes for God’s blessings on the project. By 3:45 p.m. Comcast called and asked him to come sign.
“That’s how divine it is,” said Ortiz-Guzman, who now attends St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell.
Since then the staff of 15 and some freelancers focused on preparing for the July 1 launch of the channel, Comcast digital channel 150, which now reaches 380,000 households.
Local Spanish viewing up until now has been limited to Channel 34, WUVG, launched by the national Spanish network Univision, which features the “Nuestra Georgia” program on Saturday mornings and 90-second news spots on the half hour on weekday evenings.
The Spanish Mass will be broadcast every Sunday at noon on the Comcast channel and be repeated at 11 p.m. It will feature a different priest and church each month, with commentary by a local priest, Religious or layperson. All Hispanic and Anglo priests who speak Spanish are welcome to be filmed for the program. For the first month, Mass was filmed with Father Duvan celebrating at his church, San Felipe de Jesus Mission in Forest Park, where “I was able to capture the essence of the people,” said Ortiz-Guzman.
In his first recorded homily Father Duvan preached on the Gospel and expressed gratitude to the channel for broadcasting their Mass. He later said that “Georgia TeVe makes its channel available at no charge to the archdiocese to collaborate in the evangelization of the Hispanic community.”
Other new locally produced TV programs include “La Hora de la Aventura,” (The Adventure Hour, a children’s show); “Las Recetas de Mamá” (Mama’s Recipes); “Mejorando Tu Casa Sin Miedo” (The No Fear Home Improvement Show); “Mujer Latina” (Latin Woman); “Esto sí Es Música!” (Now That’s Music!); “La Gente Opina” (The People Speak); “Leyes Cotidianas” (The Law and You); “Finanzas Cotidianas” (Everyday Finances); and “Georgia TeVe Deportes” (Georgia TeVe Sports). With 24-hour programming, it will also include some “telenovelas” (Spanish soap operas) plus other syndicated programs.
Ortiz-Guzman added that Deacon Jesús Nerio of St. Peter Chanel has been a guest on the legal program, and he hopes that he will be a regular contributor to that and also to the Mass.
“He’s such a bright man because he knows his law really well.”
Leonardo Jaramillo, director of the Hispanic youth and young adult ministry for the archdiocese, is impressed that the channel is debuting with the local Mass, which has not previously been available to Georgia viewers, and hopes that the channel stays focused on serving the public.
“It can address informative and formative topics of interest in the Hispanic community because one of the greatest difficulties the community has is that people don’t know what’s happening in their world, where they live,” he said. “It must give the community what it needs, not just simply sell a product. What really caught my attention has been its broadcasting, from day one, a Mass that’s going to spread Christian values in our community.”
Jaramillo said he hopes this might lead to other catechetical collaboration. It will benefit “not only the sick, but the persons who can’t go to church, all types of people. In others it will spark a greater interest in participating in the church,” said Jaramillo.
A lively Latin gala was held June 29 at the Compound nightclub in Midtown to celebrate the station’s debut, where gown-clad ladies and men in coats and ties listened to the Gypsy Kings and other music as they mingled by candlelight on a patio with fountains and palm tree arrangements. Partygoers, ranging from the former Mexican consul Teodoro Maus to Miss Georgia International 2005, dined on foods like paella Valenciana, fried maduras, and yuccas with cilantro and guacamole. Inside Ortiz-Guzman, in a room lit by soft neon lights, acknowledged those involved.
“This is not about Rafael; it’s about the people behind me.” He said the Mass “grew out of a need for me to have some sort of sense and interaction with the Almighty” and he spoke of the support of Father Duvan, leading the crowd in applause for him. As his helpers had problems getting a video on Georgia TeVe to run, he joked as he stalled the chatty crowd, “Do we have to bring a professional to do this?”
State Sen. Sam Zamarippa, an investment banker with Heritage Capital, said that when the CEO approached them with his mission they immediately knew it needed to be done to give a voice to the Latino Commission, to have “the beautiful cast of Latino faces on TV” and to provide an outlet for advertisers with Hispanics.
In an interview later Zamarippa said he feels the channel captures the burgeoning Hispanic potential in this country, and will increase the flow of information on issues like immigration, health care and civil rights in the local media.
“The current channels that are on the air are really about bringing content to people that says who they were. Our channel is about what they’re becoming,” he said. “Right now we need a continuity of information coming from multiple media sources. How do they understand immigration … health care … their basic rights as people … the leadership of their community … We invested in this because we really believe the purpose of this is bigger than just money.”
A Presbyterian, he also feels the Mass is vital.
“That program is going to reach thousands of people who can’t make it to Mass for one reason or another but will tune in to be touched by what is familiar to them, what they know and what they love, and that’s one of the most important things we can do,” he added.
Adrian Cotasaenz, who is from Mexico and works in economic development, said that he wouldn’t have been able to build a blessed life here without the prayers and advice of persons of faith who have reminded him that “I am and must remain a humble servant.”
He attended the gala and commented on the inclusion of the Mass in the station’s programming. The Mass “is very nice to have and is something we must have so we don’t forget our principles. Even if people are just flipping through the channels and running into the Mass, it gives us a little reminder of the principles we must follow.”
Edna Rodriguez, director of career and educational services of the Latin American Association, said that the channel will also give her organization a good outlet to disseminate information on their services before people face a crisis, adding that she’d like to partner more with churches as well.
“It’s really awesome to see a Latino-owned channel … It’s good to have a TV station like this so we know to tell people ‘come to us.’”
A Catholic and native of Puerto Rico who owns her own business, Grace Williams is honored to be hosting the program on everyday personal and business financial advice as a way to give back to the community, and to be a role model for other Latin women.
“We feel it’s very important for them to have an understanding in dealing with taxes and finances and how things work in opening one’s own business,” said the tall blonde wearing a sequined gray and black gown.
Ortiz-Guzman describes the Hispanic community here as having been in the desert devoid of local Spanish programming and his invaluable team as having found an oasis of creativity.
“I’m the Moses taking the flock into bigger and better things … There’s a community that is thirsting for TV programming that is inspirational, educational and informative … Georgia TeVe is that glass of water that will quench your thirst when it comes to TV programming,” he continued.
The entrepreneur is highly stressed these days, but is calmed as he contemplates the true essence of life through the lens of faith. He now believes the Mass is in a category of its own in the lineup.
“As long as I’m here we’ll always do this Mass. That’s my commitment to myself and my community and my commitment to the church,” he said. “Everyone here is from Latin America; we’re a very religious community and everybody believes in what we’re doing. When we put the Mass together it’s put together with a lot of love and emotion … There’s nothing more profound than the Mass.”
For more information visit www.georgiateve.com. Programming will be available on channel 150 to Comcast digital package subscribers, which starts at $55.49 per month, and to those who buy the Cable Latino package (basic package plus the “Selecto” package) for $25.49 per month.