Flock of Sheep in the Campagna, Claude Lorrain
Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna [Web Gallery of Art]
'They were like sheep without a shepherd.'
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
(Jeremiah 23:4. First Reading).
On at least six occasions during his recent nine-day pastoral visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Pope Francis asked the people to pray for him, as he did when he addressed the people in St Peter's Square for the first time as pope in 2013. Perhaps he has constantly in mind two statements in today's First Reading from the Prophet Jeremiah: 'Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the .'
Jesus shows his concern for the apostles when they returned from the mission on which he had sent them as shepherds when 'He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”'
Perhaps we can pray in a special way for our priests as we take part in Mass this Sunday. We have countless models of priests who have been worthy shepherds, evening to laying down their lives for the flock they were called to serve. One such shepherd is an Iraqi priest with Irish connections, Fr Ragheed Ganni, assassinated along with three subdeacons, his cousin Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed, after celebrating Mass in Mosul, Iraq, on Trinity Sunday, 3 June 2007.
Apse of Chapel, Irish College, Rome
St Columban second from left, Fr Ragheed far right.
[Details at source]
An engineer by profession, Ragheed answered God's call to become a priest and studied theology in Rome, before and after his ordination in 2003. While there he stayed at the Pontifical Irish College where he became known as 'Paddy the Iraqi', 'Paddy' being a common nickname for men named Patrick, after Ireland's national patron, and a humorous generic name for any Irishman. As a priest still studying in Rome he spent part of his summers as a member of the staff at Lough Derg, known as St Patrick's Purgatory, a place of penitential pilgrimage in Ireland.
Mosaic of Fr Ragheed Ganni with palms of martyrdom, Chapel of Irish College, Rome [Source]
Yet this young Iraqi who, according to the statement of one friend after the priests' murder, 'knew where the best pizza in Rome was', chose to go back to his own country, knowing that his life might be in danger. He spoke of this at a Eucharistic Congress in Bari, Italy, two years before his death. The theme of the Congress was Without Sunday We Cannot Live, 'Sunday' meaning most especially the celebration of Holy Mass.
Basilica of St Nicholas, Bari [Wikipedia]
(20 November 1942 - kidnapped 29 February, body found 13 March 2008) [Photo: The Path to Peace Foundation]
Father Ragheed was secretary to Archbishop Rahho, The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul. Most Catholics in Iraq and Syria belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church, in full communion with Rome. 'The Eucharist, the Christ who died and risen, that gives us life' was celebrated every Sunday in Mosul for 1,600 years - until June 2014 when the ISIS forces drove out the remaining Christians.
The words of Jeremiah, 'I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them', have surely been fulfilled in the lives and deaths of such priests as Fr Ragheed Ganni and Archbishop Rahho. As we thank God for them and for countless other faithful priest-shepherds, let us continue to pray for all our priests and for Christians who are being persecuted for their faith.