04 June 2008

'I cannot shut God's house!' - Fr Ragheed Ganni's last words

The more I read about this young priest, Fr Ragheed Ganni, murdered on Pentecost Sunday 2007 in Mosul, Iraq, after celebrating Mass, the more I see a man who truly lived his priesthood, a man who was cheerful and who enjoyed life but was ready to die if necessary for his faith. In his case this wasn't just a resolution that many of us make in the fervor of a retreat, for example, but in the reality of the war in Iraq and threats by some against Christians.

We will be featuring Father Ragheed in the July-August issue of Misyon, which I edit. In the current May-June issue you can read about Father Rey Roda OMI, murdered here in the Philippines last January because, like Father Ragheed, he chose to stay with his people.

Check out the new website dedicated to Father Ragheed Ganni. It is in both English and Arabic, a gentle reminder to us that there have been Arab Christians since the time of the Apostles and that not all Arabs are Muslims. It's also a reminder to us that not all Catholics are members of the Latin or Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Father Ragheed was a member of the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church.

AsiaNews published the story below yesterday. The Pontifical Irish College in Rome, where Father Ragheed stayed while studying for the priesthood, doesn't yet have a report on the even held on 31 May and mentioned below. However, their website has a page dedicated to Father Ragheed.

On the first anniversary of the murder of the Chaldean pastor of Mosul, the only witness to the killing speaks out: Ragheed was killed because he was not afraid. The woman, the widow of one of the three subdeacons slaughtered together with the priest, is living in Syria, waiting to start a new life with her children.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - He could have run away, saved himself, but he went to meet his destiny without fear. Fr Ragheed Gani, killed one year ago in Iraq, died because up until the very end he remained convinced that Christians should not be afraid, that "God's house cannot be closed!". On the first anniversary of the "martyrdom", the only witness to it is speaking out: Bayan Adam Bella, wife of one of the three subdeacons murdered in cold blood together with their pastor on June 3, 2007, in Mosul. This is the same diocese that last March lost its bishop, Faraj Rahho, also a victim of terrorism.

The woman, interviewed by Ankawa.com, is now a refugee in Syria together with her four children. They live with her brother-in-law's family. She suffers greatly and is full of questions over a fate that she is still not able to understand, and over her continuing difficulties in obtaining a visa. But now, twelve months later, she finally has the strength to give a more complete account of those tragic moments. After celebrating the Eucharist in his parish, the Church of the Holy Spirit, Fr Ragheed had departed by car together with one of the deacons, his cousin Basman Yousef Daud. Bayan was in a car behind them, together with her husband, Wahid Hanna Isho, and the other deacon, Gassan Isam Bidawed. Recently the three had begun to accompany the priest wherever he went in an effort to protect him after repeated death threats.

"At a certain point", the woman recounts, "the car was stopped by armed men. Fr Ragheed could have fled, but he did not want to, because he knew they were looking for him. They forced us to get out of the car, and led me away. Then one of the killers screamed at Ragheed, 'I told you to close the church, why didn't you do it? Why are you still here?'. And he simply responded, 'How can I close the house of God?' They immediately pushed him to the ground, and Ragheed had only enough time to gesture to me with his head that I should run away. Then they opened fire and killed all four of them". At this point, Bayan fainted. In the hours immediately after the killing, the bodies remained abandoned on the road because no one dared to get close to them. They were all buried in Karamles.

Bayan has many questions: "Why did they make me a widow, why did they tear the word 'papa' from the mouths of my children? What did we do wrong? What did my husband do?", she asks, addressing the terrorists. In August of 2007, she asked the UNHCR for humanitarian asylum in the West, but the difficulties are enormous. "At first no one believed my story. How can they shut the door in the face of such suffering?". In January of 2008, she met again with UN staff. Now she is waiting for nothing more than to start life over for herself and her children.

Ceremonies commemorating the four martyrs were held in northern Iraq. In Rome, the Pontifical Irish College organised a conference last May 31 entitled "Witnesses to Christ, Past and Present", to recall the sacrifice of Ragheed, a former student of the college. Cardinal Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and Monsignor Parolin, undersecretary for relations with states, participated in the event.

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