25 July 2014

'One pearl of great value.' Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Chaldean Catholic Church
ܥܕܬܐ ܟܠܕܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝܬܐ
Ecclesia Chaldaeorum Catholica

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Matthew 13:44-52 [or 13:44-46] (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
[“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”]

Fr Ragheed Ganni (20 January 1972 - 3 June 2007)

We have been given the most precious 'pearl' of all, our Christian faith. And at the heart of that 'pearl' is the Eucharist, the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, as Vatican II tells us in Lumen Gentium No 11. Fr Ragheed Ganni, a priest of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is in full communion with Rome, spoke in Bari, Italy, about the Eucharist on Saturday 28 May 2005, the eve of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI to close a Eucharistic Congress there.

This is what Father Ragheed said (emphases added):

Mosul Christians are not theologians; some are even illiterate. And yet inside of us for many generations one truth has become embedded: without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live.

This is true today when evil has reached the point of destroying churches and killing Christians, something unheard of in Iraq till now.

On June 2004 of last year, a group of young women were cleaning the church to get it ready for Sunday Mass. My sister Raghad, who is 19, was among them.

As she was carrying a pale of water to wash the floor, two men drove up and threw a grenade that blew up just a few yards away from her.

She was wounded but miraculously survived. And on that Sunday we still celebrated the Eucharist. My shaken parents were also there.

For me and my community, my sister's wounds were a source of strength so that we, too, may bear our cross.

Last August in St Paul Church, a car bomb exploded after the 6pm Mass. The blast killed two Christians and wounded many others. But that, too, was another miracle—the car was full of bombs but only one exploded. Had they all gone off together the dead would have been in the hundreds since 400 faithful had come on that day.

People could not believe what had happened. The terrorists might think they can kill our bodies or our spirit by frightening us, but, on Sundays, churches are always full. They may try to take our life, but the Eucharist gives it back.

On 7 December, the eve of the Immaculate Conception, a group of terrorists tried to destroy the Chaldean Bishop's Residence, which is near Our Lady of the Tigris Shrine, a place venerated by both Christians and Muslims.

They placed explosives everywhere and a few minutes later blew the place up. This and fundamentalist violence against young Christians have forced many families to flee. Yet the Churches have remained open and people continue to go to Mass, even among the ruins.

It is among such difficulties that we understand the real value of Sunday, the day when we meet the Risen Christ, the day of our unity and love, of our [mutual] support and help.

There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say 'Behold the Lamb of God, Behold, 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 united in His boundless love.

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 learnt that it is the Eucharist, the Christ who died and risen, that gives us life. And this allows us to resist and hope.

Father Ragheed

Two years later, on 3 June 2007, Trinity Sunday, Father Ragheed was murdered after celebrating Mass in Mosul, along with three subdeacons, Basman Yousef DaudWahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed.

Last Sunday, 20 July, for the first time in almost 2,000 years Mass was not celebrated in Mosul, where Father Ragheed, who gave up his profession as an engineer to become a priest, had served. Christians had been driven from their homes by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

This video, with a recent news report from Al Jazeera, is one of many available on YouTube.

Last Sunday Pope Francis expressed his concern for the Christians of Iraq in his Angelus talk.

The Christians of Iraq, all of whom are Arabs, are descended from people who became Christians in the time of the Apostles. They have lived and passed on the Christian faith for 2,000 years. In 2003 there were 50,000 Chaldean Catholics and 35,000 Syrian Catholics, all in full communion with Rome, and many Orthodox Christians, in Mosul. Now there are hardly any.

And one Muslim, Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, was killed by ISIS militants in Mosul the other day for protesting at the way Christians were being treated.

The Christians of Iraq, and of Syria, desperately need our prayers. Perhaps we can unite ourselves with them as we take part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the 'pearl of great value', this weekend in our local church, something the Catholic and Orthodox Christians of Mosul have been able to do for 2,000 years but may never be able to do there again.

Perhaps too we can join with Father Ragheed in prayer to Our Blessed Mother. His recording of a hymn to her was played during his funeral procession.

A translation of the hymn:

We honor you with hymns O Mother of God, 
you are the pride of the whole earth, 
because the Word of God whom the Father sent, 
chose to take His human body from you. 

The generations call you blessed, 
all nations and people's honor you 
and ask for mercy by your prayers. 
You are a generous earth in which plants of joy always grow.

St Elijah's Monastery, south of Mosul, founded in the 6th century [Wikipedia]

Further reading on the situation of Iraq'a Christians

'Beautiful Witness of Fidelity to Christ' in Iraq.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) 21 July 2014The jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant 'commit atrocities in the name of religion, but go against the dictates of the Koran. Iraqis of all religions and of all ethnic groups must be committed so that the great common heritage of this country is not destroyed', writes the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Mar Raphael Louis Sako I, in an open letter addressed 'to all those who care about national unity' and sent to AsiaNews. Below is the full text of the message. 

To the people of conscience and good will in Iraq and the world,

To the voice of the moderates, our Muslim brothers and sisters in Iraq and the world,

To all concerned about the continuation of Iraq as a nation for all its citizens,

To all leaders, thinkers, and human rights activists,

To all defenders of the dignity of the human person and the freedom of religions,

Peace and God's Mercy.

The takeover of the Islamist jihadists of Mosul and their announcement of an Islamic state, and after days of composure and anticipation, the situation had turned negative on the Christians of the city and surrounding areas. The first signs of this reversal were the kidnaping of the two nuns and three orphans who were released after 17 days, We were encouraged by this development and we considered it a glimmer of hope, and a breakthrough. Only to be surprised by the latest developments,   the Islamic state issued a statement calling on Christians openly to convert to Islam, and either pay Jizya without specifying a ceiling, or leave their city and their homes, with their clothes only, without any luggage, and issued a "fatwa" that the homes will become the property to the Islamic state.

They have marked the letter "N" on the homes of Christians for "Nazarenes"!!! As they have marked on the homes of Shiites with the letter (R) for "Rejectors". Who knows what is holding in the coming days as the laws of the Islamic state is based on what they claim to be the Sharia law, including the redefinition of identities on the basis of religion and sectarianism.

These requirements offend Muslims and the reputation of Islam, which says "you have your religion and we have ours," and "There is no compulsion in religion", and it is in contradiction of a thousand and four hundred years of history and a lifetime of the Islamic world, and coexistence with different religions and different peoples, east and west, respecting their beliefs and living in fraternity. The Christians  and in particular in our East, and since the advent of Islam, have shared together sweet and bitter memories, their bloods were mixed in defense of their rights and their land, and together they built, cities, civilization and heritage. It is shameful that Christians are being rejected, expelled and diminished. It is obvious that this would have disastrous consequences on the coexistence between the majority and the minorities, even among Muslims themselves, in the near and long term. Hence, Iraq is heading to a humanitarian, cultural, and historical disaster.

Therefore we call unto them, a warm, brotherly, urgent and serious call, and we appeal to our fellow Iraqis who support them to reconsider their strategy, and respect the unarmed innocent people, of all ethnicities, religions and sects. The Quran commands respect to the innocent,  and does not call to seize the property of people forcibly, it calls on helping the widow, the orphan, the destitute and the defenseless, and even recommend to help the seventh neighbour. We also call on Christians in the region to adopt rationality and acumen, and calculate their options well and understand what is planned for the area, and come together in love and think through together and in solidarity to build confidence in themselves and their neighbours, gathering around their church, being patient, enduring and praying until the storm passes. 

+ Louis Raphael I Sako

Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church 17 July2014

Monastery of the Martyrs Saint Behnam and his Sister Sarah
A Syriac Catholic monastery in northern Iraq founded in the 4th century [Wikipedia]

1 comment:

Fr Seán Coyle said...

From the homily of Sean Cardinal Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, at the dedication of the chapel in the Pontifical Irish College, Rome, on 8 December 2010:

'My final witness is Father Ragheed Ganni, who is featured on the extreme right of St Brigid. He is depicted without a halo but holding the palms of martyrdom. Born in 1973, Ragheed became an engineering graduate from the University of Mosul in Iraq. He became a student of the Irish College in 1996, was ordained a priest in 2001 and celebrated his first Mass in this Chapel.

'During his seven years as a student he spent many summers in Ireland, working in various places, especially the pilgrimage island of Lough Derg, Co Donegal in the diocese of Clogher. Father Ragheed went back to his native Mosul. He was appointed to a parish where he, and his family, received many death threats; his house and Church were often attacked. Ragheed insisted on staying to make sure his people had the Eucharist and pastoral care. On 3 June 2007, he, and three Sub-Deacons were murdered. The relics of St Oliver, wrapped in Father Ragheed’s stole, will be placed in the altar. [St Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, was martyred on 1 July 1681] They are put there to remind us that the life of grace is received from God, made man in Christ Jesus.'[http://www.irishcollege.org/college-chapel/dedication-chapel/]