Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, host of “Threshold of Hope” and “EWTN Live,” laughs after responding to a question from the audience Oct. 5, 2008 during the Eternal Word Television Network Family Celebration at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center in DeKalb, Ill. The theme for the two-day conference was “Called to Conversion in the Year of St. Paul.” (Karen Callaway/CNS)

The Eternal Word Television Network’s hosts and leaders are headed to Phoenix Sept. 8-9 to meet and pray with local Catholics.

The free family celebration will feature Mass, eucharistic adoration, reconciliation, meet and greets with well-known EWTN personalities and live performances in a vibrant “Faith Factory” children’s area. EWTN Radio, which turns 20 this year, will broadcast live from the Phoenix Convention Center throughout the weekend.

The family celebration — first held in 2005 as a thank you to the EWTN “family” for its 25 years of support — will focus on the theme, “Following God’s Call.” It echoes Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a new evangelization to revitalize Catholics in their faith.

Four EWTN hosts will offer related talks. Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, who hosts “EWTN Live” and “Threshold of Hope” and Raymond Arroyo, who created and has hosted “The World Over,” an international news magazine, since it debuted in 1996, will speak Sept. 8.

Sandwiched between them is a special religious liberty all-star roundtable with Arroyo as moderator. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Michael Warsaw, EWTN’s president and CEO, are among the members. Local Catholics Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference; Alan Sears, president, CEO and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom; and Marci Moffitt, president of the Catholic Medical Association, will join them.

“Religious freedom is the first and most basic freedom, since it impacts our relationship with our Creator,” Bishop Olmsted said. “So few things are more important for a nation than the stability of family life and the protection of religious freedom where every member of the family can flourish.”

EWTN has publicly shown a similar stance. It’s among 22 Catholic employers that filed a lawsuit to have the Health and Human Services mandate declared unconstitutional because they say it restricts their free exercise of religion.

“EWTN has certainly been at the forefront of the religious liberty debate and has been supportive of the US Bishops’ efforts to raise awareness of the serious challenges that we face as Catholics and as a nation,” said Michael Warsaw, EWTN’s president and CEO.

The religious liberty roundtable will provide a context for Catholics on key issues before they head to the polls in November. It will also serve as a chance for Basilica Press to release the third edition of Bishop Olmsted’s booklet “Catholics in the Public Square.” Ron Johnson with the Arizona Catholic Conference said readers will find the free, third edition to contain new questions pertaining to religious liberty and a foreword written by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Ending the first night is a special 90-minute “Life on the Rock” live show. The Poor Clare Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Tonopah, affectionately known as “The Desert Nuns,” will be among the guests.

“Really, everyone gets to be a part of the event. Nearly every session has the opportunity for folks to step up to the microphone and ask questions, so there is a local dimension to every session,” Warsaw said.

Turnout at past celebrations has ranged from 3,000 to nearly 10,000 people. Warsaw said many are grateful that EWTN came to visit them. Next month’s celebration will be a first for Phoenix.

The final day of the celebration features a 9:45 a.m. Mass Sept. 9 with Bishop Olmsted. Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, OSB, and Marcus Grodi, host of “The Journey Home” will speak after lunch and wrap up the celebration.

Bishop Olmsted said, “This event will help families to deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, to learn more about evangelizing culture through the use of the media and to assist them to defend religious freedom at this pivotal time in our nation’s history.”

Warsaw also hopes that the celebration brings people together and re-charges and renews them in their faith.