Since the start of December, Zenit has been posting Arabic-language
Readers can subscribe directly to Zenit’s Arabic news service for free by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Zenit is not yet able to post its news articles in Arabic on its own site, but hopes to be able to do that within the next few months.
So far, the response has been very positive.
“We received 250-300 subscriptions a day during the first week,” said the edition’s editor, Tony Assaf. “The impact has been really great.”
In collaboration with Vatican
Radio, the service will provide Arabic speakers with comprehensive news
coverage of the Church by translating papal addresses,
The idea for an Arabic edition
began two years ago after Zenit was swamped with
requests. Patriarch Michel Sabbah of
Ministries of education and school
directors in the
“Up until now there has not been the possibility for many Arabic speakers to read documents — even the events — of the Church, so there was this great need for direct information,” said Zenit’s director, Jesus Colina; “It’s primarily aimed at Christians who speak Arabic and who, until now, have only been able to access such information through Islamic sources. For them it’s been really difficult sometimes to know what the Pope is saying.”
As an example, Colina
cited Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 12
Along with communicating with
Arabic-speaking Christians in the
“We’ve been getting lots of
enquiries from the
The edition was launched to
coincide with an event of great significance to Arabic speakers — the Pope’s
recent visit to
Colina has three goals for the service: to deliver a genuine source of highly professional information on the Church and the Catholic faith, accessible to other media networks; to build bridges and stable contacts with Arabic media and institutions including governments (the Jordanian government has already expressed a strong interest); and to reach the grassroots of society, especially young people, as the majority of the population in the Middle East are under 30 years old and regularly access the Internet.
In addition, Zenit
hopes to communicate the Church’s good will toward the Arabic world, correct
misconceptions of the Church in the
“I see it first and foremost as a service to dialogue between civilizations and religions,” said Colina. “For me, it’s interesting to look at Al-Jazeera (an Arabic television channel that recently launched an English edition), which is proof that exchange of information is the way to understand others. But we currently have no Catholic equivalent.”
Fund-raising will be crucial to the success of Zenit’s Arabic service. Although it will receive some support during its first year through the charity Aid to the Church in Need, in order to cope with its demanding workload the service will require additional staff and technical improvements that must be funded through donations. Those wishing to donate to the Arabic service can contact Tony Assaf at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zenit’s new venture is the latest in a
growing number of initiatives seeking to improve communications with the Arab
and Muslim world. Father Luciano Cicciarelli,
a diocesan priest from
Meanwhile, a Paris-based group of journalists and experts on the Middle East have created the website Middle East Transparent (metransparent.com), a portal in Arabic, English and French that aims to promote a more informed dialogue on all issues affecting the region.
Zenit plans to work directly with another agency that reaches out to Arabic-speakers, the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.
“It will be a good source of information,” said Colina, who noted that Benedict recently manifested his support for the institute’s work by helping resolve some financial difficulties it was experiencing.
Zenit is also collaborating with Oasis, a biannual magazine published by the Patriarchate of Venice that promotes cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
The magazine, launched in 2001 by
Cardinal Angelo Scola of
“I am very positive about Zenit’s venture,” said the editor-in-chief of Oasis, Roberto Fontolan. “In the past, we European Catholics have not done enough in this area, so all that we can do to talk directly to Arab culture — its people and countries — is very important.”