Fr Ragheed, martyr in Iraq: discovering God's grace under persecution (audio)
Twelve years after the murder of the Chaldean priest, a recording of his thoughts has come to light from the Irish College in Rome where he studied. Those who threaten "with weapons", he says, feel "threatened by our faith". After each extremist attack, hundreds of faithful crowded the church for Mass. The audio file of the homily given by the priest can be heard.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – People who "live under persecution" are better equipped than others to "discover the grace of God" and realise "how strong their faith is, while there are people trying to threaten us with their weapons, because they are threatened by our faith”, said Fr Ragheed Ganni – a parish priest in Mosul murdered along with three deacons on 3 June 2007 by Islamic extremists – in the homily he delivered at the Irish College in Rome, a few months before he was killed.
Fr Rebwar Audish Basa, an Iraqi Chaldean priest and friend of Fr Ragheed, found the precious recording by one of the modern martyrs of the Church in Iraq, transcribed it and sent it to AsiaNews.
Twelve years after the murders, the memory of the parish priest is still alive. The clergyman is viewed as a witness of freedom "until martyrdom". Even before the rise of the Islamic State group and the flight of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and lands in Mosul and the Nineveh plain, he denounced "pressure [. . .] to remove Christians from Iraq" or stop them “from being faithful to their own tradition and their faith".
Instead, citing the teachings of Saint Paul, he noted that "nobody will ever be able to separate the love of Christ from us", even at the cost of bearing witness to the faith to the point of martyrdom.
Below is the full text of the homily of Vespers Fr Ragheed delivered at the Irish College in Rome on 17 November 2006.
We all believe that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and because of this, we understand how evil it is that someone should be killed by another person, without thinking that this person has the right to live and that his life should not be taken away from him, even if they think that God is ordering them to do so.
Three years ago, I went back to Iraq, after staying here in the Irish college for seven years. During those seven years I got to know a lot of things about Ireland, about the history of the church in Ireland and about persecution, and I always admired the faith of the Irish and the way they survived and kept their churches open. I often spoke about this. In the college I also came across people from different nationalities, and each one contributed to my knowledge in some way.
When I went back home, carrying my hopes and thoughts of working in my own diocese in the north of Iraq, in particular after the changes that had happened after Saddam’s regime fell, I thought that there was going to be a very bright future and that things would move in a better direction. And then over the last three years my own parish church was attacked, perhaps ten times. And sometimes people were wounded. But Christians still insisted on coming to Sunday masses and other activities. In fact, last Saturday there was another attack on my parish church, and I thought that on that Sunday nobody would come to mass, because within a very short period that church had been attacked six rimes. I was surprised to know that there were about five hundred people at evening mass the following day.
So I have always thought that people under persecution are able to discover the grace of God, and discover how strong their faith is, while there are people trying to threaten us with their weapons, because they are threatened by our faith.
People would often contact me asking me the most important thing that they could do for us. And I always asked for prayers. It is amazing how something like that built up our morale, just knowing there were people sharing our difficulties with us, people united to us though their prayers, and people who were thinking about us while we were suffering in Iraq.
I was very optimistic up to about three months ago, and then things took a turn for the worse, Now the future for Iraq is very grey and I think we need more prayers than ever. There are so many people fleeing to different countries or even to Kurdistan within Iraq, but there are many others unable to move to anywhere else, and they are in some way prisoners within their own homes. They simply cannot leave, and they really need a lot of prayers.
There is still pressure to try to remove Christianity from Iraq, or to stop Christians there from being faithful to their own tradition and their faith, but by the grace of God, as St. Paul says, nobody will ever be able to separate the love of Christ from us, or us from the love of Christ.
Once again, I thank the Irish College for allowing me to have this opportunity to share all this with you, and I ask you to continue praying for peace in Iraq and for the Christians there.