By Donna Orsuto
ROME — This Pentecost, I remembered in a special way Father Ragheed Ganni, who was brutally killed in Mosul, Iraq, after celebrating the Eucharist on Sunday, June 3, 2007.
Marking the 10th anniversary of his martyrdom, I just received a copy of a book in Italian, Un Sacerdote Cattolico nello Stato Islamico (A Catholic Priest in the Islamic State), by Rebwar Audish Basa, that tells the story of his life and death.
A video was also produced to mark the anniversary.
After celebrating the Pentecost Sunday Eucharist for the community there, Father Ragheed and three subdeacons were shot as they were driving away from the parish church. Just before Father Ragheed was shot, one of the gunmen asked him why he did not listen to them and close the church. Father Ragheed replied, “How can I close the house of God?”
While he was a student in Rome, Father Ragheed, an Iraqi Christian of the Chaldean Catholic Church, often came to The Lay Centre to celebrate the Thursday morning Mass for the Vincent Pallotti Institute.
He was studying here when the war started in Iraq in 2003. On the morning that the first bombs hit Baghdad, he was scheduled to celebrate Mass at The Lay Centre. The chapel was packed. Many of the participants were from the United States, some were diplomats. What could one say on such an occasion? I was without words. All we could do was to pray for peace. And so the sacrifice of the Mass was offered. Father Ragheed came back the next week and the week after until he left Rome.
Before departing for Iraq, as we stood together in the garden, he acknowledged that it was dangerous to return to his country, but what could he do? He was a priest. The Chaldean people needed him. He went freely.
When speaking at the National Eucharistic Congress in Italy in 2005, he said, “Without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live. In normal times, everything is taken for granted and we forget the greatest gift that is made to us. Ironically, it is thanks to terrorist violence that we have truly learned that it is the Eucharist, Christ who died and has risen, that gives us life. And this allows us to resist and hope.”
He once wrote, “There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,’ I feel His strength in me. When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really He who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us all united in His boundless love.”
A martyr celebrated Mass in The Lay Centre chapel. If the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, one can only hope and pray that the sacrifice of his life, and that of so many others, will bring renewed life to a new Iraq.
Father Ragheed of the Eucharist, pray for us.