12/09/2004, 00.00
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Bearing witness to Christ at the peril of one's life, says Father Ragheed in Mosul

by Lorenzo Fazzini
The priest who saw the attack against the Bishop's Palace says that the building "has collapsed except for one wall and hanging on that wall is a photo of the Pope."

Mosul (AsiaNews) – A few hours after yesterday's attack in Mosul, Chaldean Catholics chose hope over despair. They all took part in the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Many people, including some Muslims, offered to their hospitality to Mgr Rahho, Mosul's bishop, this according to Fr Ragheed Ganni, 32, who spoke to AsiaNews on the phone. An eyewitness to the attack against the Bishop's Palace, Father Ganni is a Chaldean priest who after spending seven years in Italy went back to Iraq a year ago.

Although they are targets for the terrorists, father Ganni says, Christians intend to stay in Iraq as 'symbols of peace'. The cross believers in Christ must bear in Iraq is great, but the Pope's and Western Christians' prayers are a great help "to bear witness of our faith in Christ at the peril of one's life.

Here's the full interview with Father Ganni.

Tell us about the attack!

Four to five people came into the building, three masked. They ordered me out and said: "We are putting the bombs because the Americans are destroying our mosques".

They chose the Bishop's Palace because it is a symbol for all Christians. This way they could send a warning to all Christian Churches. No one was wounded and for me this was a sign of God's will. When I saw the terrorists coming I sent a boy to call some activists who then phoned me saying they could not make it, that they could not move. We called the Governor's Office and the police but no one came.

How did Mosul Christians react?

Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception as we normally do. People were really frightened, but we wanted to send a signal of hope. In yesterday's celebration we wanted to remind everyone that through Mary God sent his Son into the world for us and this gives us confidence. The Bishop celebrated the mass in the Cathedral and in the other churches mass went off without incidents.

And how did Mosul residents react?

The Bishop lost his home, but many people came to offer him a room under their roof. Some Muslims also came offering the Bishop their hospitality and expressing their outrage at the attack. They expressed us their sympathy and closeness. We have many Muslim friends and the Bishop is well known among them and held in high esteem.

Yesterday, the Pope spoke of 'our dear people of Iraq' during the Angelus and prayed that time may "bring reconciliation and peace".

We know that the Pope is always praying for us and this gives us strength. And I can tell you this: the Bishop's Palace collapsed except for one wall and hanging on that wall is a photo of the Pope.

Christmas is getting closer. Can you live in circumstances of threats and attacks?

Since I have come back to Iraq a year ago I have seen so many tragedies: a bomb placed in my church that injured my sister and a car bomb—on August 1, when five attacks were made against Christian churches in Iraq—in front of our parish building moments before it was supposed to go off.

We are getting ready for the coming of Jesus, King of Peace and I think this Christmas will be a sign for Iraq and that we are called to be symbols of peace. Under these circumstances being Christian is not easy but we must do it even if it endangers our lives. Otherwise, how could we call ourselves Christians!

Some think we should fight fire with fire. But I think that given our Christian outlook and faith we must teach others our way of life. In Iraq, there is a need for someone who can carry the torch of peace and Christians can do it.

Still, many have left because they have young families. And they are right because there is no security here. But for those who stay, dying for something as great as one's faith in Christ is worthwhile. Right after the attack, a teenage boy called me on the phone and told me: "We are ready to come and sleep in the church to defend it."

Father, why did you go back to Iraq where you risk your life every day?

This is my country and these are my people. After seven years of study in Italy I had to come back. I am afraid but I have always prayed that God's will be done. Here in Mosul is my diocese. I had to return because people need spiritual fathers and guides and I am not better than them that I can stay away.

What can Western Christians do?

They can pray for us. Iraqi Christians are bearing a heavy cross. Knowing that people in the West are praying for us gives us strength.

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