Vatican City (AsiaNews) - “Deeply saddened” by yesterday’s “senseless killing of Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and the subdeacons” in Mosul, the Pope expressed “his heartfelt condolences” in a telegram to the city’s bishop, Mgr Rahho, and the families of the deceased. In the message that was released today, Benedict XVI “joins the Christian community in Mosul in commending their souls to the infinite mercy of God our loving Father and in giving thanks for their selfless witness to the Gospel.” The Pontiff said he would pray for the “costly sacrifice [which] will inspire in the hearts of all men and women of good will a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence [. . .] and to cooperate in hastening the dawn of reconciliation, justice and peace in Iraq.”
AsiaNews joins his Holiness in expressing condolences and publishes an article in memory of Father Ragheed.
“Without Sunday, without the Eucharist the Christians in Iraq cannot survive”: that was how Fr Ragheed spoke of his community’s hope, a community that was used to facing death on a daily basis, that same death that yesterday afternoon faced him, on his way home from saying mass. After having fed his faithful with the Body and Blood of Christ, he gave his own blood, his own life for Iraq, for the future of his Church. This young priest had willingly, knowingly chosen to remain by the side of his parishioners from Holy Spirit parish in Mosul, judged the most dangerous, after Baghdad. His reasoning was simple: without him, without its pastor, his flock would have been lost. In the barbarity of suicide attacks and bombings, one thing at least was clear, and gave him the strength to resist: “Christ – Ragheed would say – challenger evil with his infinite love, he keeps us united and through the Eucharist he gifts us life, which the terrorists are trying to take away”.
He died yesterday, massacred by blind violence. Killed on his way home from Church, where his people, despite their decreasing numbers, bowed by fear and desperation, continued to come: “the young people – Ragheed told us just days ago – organized surveillance after the recent attacks against the parish, the kidnappings, the threats to religious; priests celebrate mass amidst the bombed out ruins; mothers worry as they see their children challenge danger to attend catechism with enthusiasm; the elderly come to entrust their fleeing families to God’s protection, they alone remain in their country where they have their roots and built their homes, refusing to flee. Exile for them is unimaginable”. Ragheed was one of them, a strong father figure who wanted to protect his children: “It is our duty not to give in to despair: God will listen to our prayers for peace in Iraq”:
In 2003 on finishing his studies in Rome, he decided to return to his country “that is where I belong, that is my place”. He also returned to help in the rebuilding of his nation, the rebuilding of a “free society”. He spoke of an Iraq full of hope with a captivating smile: “Saddam has fallen, we have elected a government, we have voted for a Constitution!” He organized theology courses for the lay faithful of Mosul; he worked with the young; he consoled disadvantaged families; this month he was in the grips of helping a small child with serious eye problems undergo surgery in Rome.
His testimony is of an enthusiastic faith. The target of a series of threats stretching back to 2004, he witnessed the pain of relatives and the loss of friends, and yet he carried on to the very end remembering that there was a sense to be found in that suffering, that carnage, that anarchy of violence: it was to be offered up. After an attack on his parish, on Palm Sunday last April 1st he said: “We empathise with Christ who entered Jerusalem in full knowledge that the consequence of His love for mankind was the cross. Thus while bullets smashed our Church windows, we offered up our sufferance as a sign of love for Christ”. “Each day we wait for the decisive attack – he said just weeks ago – but we will not stop celebrating mass; we will do it underground, where we are safer. I am encouraged in this decision by the strength of my parishioners. This is war, real war, but we hope to carry our cross to the very end with the help of Divine Grace”. And in the midst of the daily difficulties he himself marvelled at a growing awareness of “the great value of Sunday, the day we met the Risen Lord, the day of unity and of love between his community, of support and help”.
Then the bombings multiplied; the kidnappings of priests in Baghdad and Mosul became more frequent; Sunnis began to demand taxes from Christians to remain in their homes, or face their requisition by militants. Water and electricity grow scarce, telephones and communicating becomes difficult. Ragheed begins to grow tired, his enthusiasm weakens, to the point where in his last e-mail to AsiaNews, May 28 last, he admits: “We are on the verge of collapse”- And he tells of a bomb exploding in the Holy Spirit Church, on the feast of Pentecost May 27; of the “war” which broke out a week before, 7 car bombings, 10 explosions in swift succession, the three day curfew, “prisoners in our own home”, of not being able to celebrate the feast of the Ascension (May 20).
He pondered the path his country had taken: “In a sectarian and confessional Iraq, will there be any space for Christians? We have no support, no group who fights for our cause; we are abandoned in the midst of this disaster. Iraq has already been divided; it will never be the same. What is the future of our Church? Today it can barely be traced”.
But then the strength of his faith endures, a tired but solid faith: “I may be wrong, but I am certain about one thing, one single fact that is always true: that the Holy Spirit will enlighten people so that they may work for the good of humanity, in this world so full of evil”.
Dearest Ragheed, with a heart which cries in pain, you leave us your hope and your certainty. By taking you they aimed to wipe out the hope of Iraq’s Christians. Instead your martyrdom nourishes and gives new life to your community, to the Iraqi Church and the Church throughout the world. Thank you, grazie Ragheed.