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Father Ragheed Ganni 1972-2007

Father Ragheed Ganni, RIP. Photo: Aid to the Church in Need

Father Ragheed Ganni, RIP.

Leaving his church in Mosul, north Iraq, after Mass one Sunday, Father Ragheed Ganni was stopped in the road by armed men. One of them screamed at him: “I told you to close the church. Why didn’t you do it? Why are you still here?”

Father Ragheed replied: “How can I close the house of God?”

His attackers pushed him to the ground before killing him and also the three sub-deacons with him at the time: Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wahid Hanna.

Recalling the incident, Bayan Adam Bella, wife of Wahid Hanna, and the sole survivor of the incident, described how moments before his death, Father Ragheed had made a gesture to her with his head, urging her to run away.

Speaking publicly for the first time a year after the murders on 3rd June 2007, Bayan said that Father Ragheed had a chance to escape when he caught sight of the attackers advancing.

“He could have fled but he did not want to because he knew they were looking for him.”

Born on 20th January 1972, Ragheed Ganni grew up in northern Iraq, graduating in engineering from Mosul University in 1993. Sent to Rome, he gained a licentiate in ecumenical theology and in 2001 was ordained priest for the Chaldean Archdiocese of Mosul.

Instead of returning to his native country, he stayed in Rome for a further two years to complete his studies.

Father Ragheed Ganni meets Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, in Rome. Photo: Aid to the Church in Need

Father Ragheed Ganni meets Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, in Rome.

“Iraq is where I belong”

By the late summer of 2004, life in Iraq was becoming difficult for Christians, with attacks on churches and suicide bombs. Among the places worst affected was Mosul but Father Ragheed insisted on going back.

“That is where I belong,” he said. “Saddam has fallen, we have elected a government, we have voted for a constitution.”

He held theology courses for lay faithful, worked with the young, consoled disadvantaged families and was, at about the time of his death, helping a child with sight problems to receive treatment in Rome.

But the situation was getting worse all the time.

After an attack on his parish on Palm Sunday (1st April 2007), he commented: “We empathise with Christ who entered Jerusalem in full knowledge that the consequence of his love for mankind was the Cross.

“Thus, while bullets smashed our church windows, we offered up our suffering as a sign of love for God.”

His spirit remained unbowed. Just a few weeks before his death, he wrote: “Each day we wait for the decisive attack but we will not stop celebrating Mass; we will do it underground where we are safer. I am encouraged in this decision by my parishioners.

“This is war, real now, but we hope to carry our cross to the very end with the help of Divine Grace.”

By this stage, the bombings and kidnappings were multiplying. Muslim extremists began to demand taxes from Christians to remain in their homes. Water and electricity became scarce.

Mourners, including two Sisters, carry pictures at the funeral of three sub-deacons killed along with Father Ragheed Ganni in an etremist attack in Mosul in June 2007. Photo: Aid to the Church in Need

Mourners, including two Sisters, carry pictures at the funeral of three sub-deacons killed along with Father Ragheed Ganni in an etremist attack in Mosul in June 2007.

“We are prisoners in our own homes”

Father Ragheed grew tired. In his last email to AsiaNews on 28th May 2007, he admitted: “We are on the verge of collapse.”

He described how a bomb had exploded inside his church the day before – Pentecost Sunday. He wrote that seven car bombs had exploded plus a further 10 explosions – all in quick succession. A three-day curfew had been imposed.

“We are prisoners in our own homes,” he wrote.

He pondered on the emergence of an increasingly ‘sectarian’ Iraq. For him it prompted the question: “Will there be any space for Christians? We have no support, no group who fights our cause.”

But then he rallied, adding: “I am certain about one thing: that the Holy Spirit will enlighten people so that they may work for the good of humanity in this world so full of evil.”

After Father Ragheed was killed on 3rd June 2007, there were many tributes. One of them was from project staff at Aid to the Church in Need, which had helped fund his training in Rome.

A particularly poignant message was one from Adnam Mokrani, a professor in Islamic studies at the Angelicum University. He had become a close friend of Father Ragheed while he was in Rome.

Professor Mokrani wrote: “You not only shared the suffering of your people but also joined your blood to the thousands of Iraqis killed each day. I will never forget the day of your ordination… with tears in your eyes you told me: ‘Today, I have died to self.’

“I didn’t understand it right away…but today, through your martyrdom I have understood that phrase. You have died… so that Christ would be raised up in you despite the sufferings, sorrows, despite the chaos and despite the madness.”