Erbil, Iraq, Mar 25, 2022 / 13:50 pm (CNA).
On the solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25, local dignitaries, priests, religious, and two archbishops were on hand to mark the inauguration of ACI MENA, an Arabic-language Catholic news agency, at the Catholic University in Erbil, Iraq.
ACI MENA (short for the Association for Catholic Information in the Middle East and Northern Africa) partnered with the university to launch this initiative, aimed at telling the stories of Christians in the region, with a focus on the Churches of the East and persecuted Christians.
The agency is part of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, which also includes Catholic News Agency (CNA.)
“This initiative came to strengthen the existence of Christians in Iraq after years of persecution; it’s the time for the world to hear our voice,” Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, said during the gathering.
The Chaldean archbishop, known for his courageous testimony on behalf of the beleaguered Christian community during the 2014-2018 war with ISIS, focused his remarks in Arabic on the role of ACI MENA as a bridge between the most ancient but still living Christians on the planet and those around the world. He also described the new agency as a beacon of hope for persecuted Christians who will no longer be forgotten or anonymous in their suffering and witness to the Gospel.
“It is the time to reinforce Christians’ existence in Iraq and the Middle East,” Warda said. Warda founded the Catholic university in Erbil, along with a hospital and two secondary schools, after the war.
Joining Warda at the event was his close collaborator, Archbishop Nathanael Nizar Wadih Semaan of the Syrian Catholic Church of the Antiochian Tradition.
The gathering also featured a video message from Michael Warsaw, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of EWTN. He noted that ACI MENA’s inauguration date — March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation — is the former feast day of EWTN’s late founders, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. It is also the day the Eternal Word took on flesh, an inspiring beginning for the news agency, he noted.
“We look forward to beginning this new work, to watching it grow in the years ahead and to seeing the tremendous fruit which we know it will produce,” Warsaw said.
“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the heroism and faithfulness of our brothers and sisters in this region,” he added. “ACI MENA intends to be your voice.”
Several dignitaries of the Kurdistan region assisted with a ribbon cutting ceremony. They included the mayor of the Christian city of Ankawa, Army Noori Syawish; the president of the Catholic University in Erbil, Dr. Riadh Francis, and Ano Abdoka, the minister of transportation and communications and the representative of Christians to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG.)
In an interview with CNA, Abdoka spoke about the richness of the Church of the East and its incredible longstanding witness to the belief in Jesus Christ.
“This testimony goes from 20 centuries ago until now,” he said. “In the year 92 after Christ died, Erbil had a bishop.”
ACI MENA’s mission will be to deliver that richness and witness of that tradition to the Arabic-speaking world and beyond, said Bashar Jameel Hanna, the agency’s editor-in-chief.
“ACI MENA’s mission is to provide a voice for those who lost their voice in our region. We continue his message by our own life blood and martyrs,” he said.
“A sound extends to the root of first Christian’s to announce again that he suffered, crucified, and died, ” he added, “but he is risen and we are his witnesses.”
Before departing, Archbishop Semaan of the Syriac Catholic Church, which extends throughout the entire Kurdistan region and across several countries, imparted a blessing upon the new ACI MENA team of editors, writers, and interns.
“May God bless you and give you strength to do this wonderful service to the Church in this land,” he said, “to show the world that we will continue to strive and thrive, because we will never, ever leave.”
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