ROME, JUNE 13, 2007 (Zenit.org ).- “The situation here is worse than hell,” Father Ragheed Ganni wrote to a former professor the day before he and three deacons were shot after Sunday Mass in Mosul, Iraq.
Father Robert Christian, a theology professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome, spoke at the requiem Mass held in that school on Tuesday. There, Father Ganni had studied theology and ecumenism.
On June 3, Father Ganni and three deacons, Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wadid Hanna, were killed in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit.
Father Christian began his homily, saying: “On Saturday, June 2, I received an e-mail from Mosul. In part it read: ‘The situation here is worse than hell, and my church has been attacked a few more times since we last met. Last week, two guards in it were wounded after an attack. We shall meet in the near future and have a chat about all these events. God bless, Ragheed.'”
Father Christian continued: “The patriarch of the Chaldeans called them martyrs. And martyrs, who conform closely to the passion and death of Jesus Christ, have been revered since Christian antiquity as saints.”
Father Christian called a hell that which “those left behind are experiencing: Ragheed’s family and friends; the flock he pastured; his Chaldean Church, other Christians, and yes, Muslims, too, trapped in the senseless vortex of blind hatred and violence that is daily life in Iraq.”
“Ragheed could have fled,” Father Christian continued. “As far as I know, he came to Italy three times after he returned to Mosul upon finishing his licentiate in ecumenism at the Angelicum.
“But Ragheed had a strong sense of his priestly duty to be an icon of the Good Shepherd for his people.”
Father Christian also read a message he received from Father Ganni last October.
It read: “Dear Father Christian, How are you? I’m really happy to get your message, and to know that there are people who still think of and pray for my country.
“The situation, as you can follow in the news, is dreadful. Christians are suffering twice, first because of the situation, second because of their religion.
“The Pope’s speech lit a fire in the city. A Syrian Orthodox priest was beheaded; my parish church was attacked five times. I was threatened even before that priest was kidnapped, but I was very careful about moving around. I postponed my vacation twice because I couldn’t leave the city under such conditions.
“I was planning to travel to Europe on Sept. 18, but I moved it to Oct. 4. Then I had to change the date to Nov. 1.
“Ramadan was a disaster for us in Mosul. Hundreds of Christian families fled outside the city — including my family and uncles. About 30 people left all their properties and fled, having been threatened.
“It is not easy but the grace of the Lord gives support and strength. We face death every day here.”
These words show, Father Christian said, that Father Ganni “knew he was facing the threat of death for his faith. But he also knew that staying there was his duty, giving courageous witness to our faith in the resurrected Lord.”
The professor continued: “We are used to teaching future leaders of the Church. When we hear about one of our former students becoming a bishop, we rejoice. But having taught a martyr is something else entirely. And sometimes we professors learn from our students.
“The emotions are strong: sadness, pain, anger and the feeling of helplessness.
“However, there is the awareness that we are before a person who was prepared to pay the supreme price; a person who wanted to live and die heroically; a person ready to shed his blood for the life of the faithful. This awareness humbles us.”
Body and blood
Father Christian explained the source of Father Ganni’s fortitude: “The strength of Father Ragheed was the Eucharist, and in his homilies he taught the faithful that the body and blood of Jesus, who was sacrificed and resurrected, strengthened the union among the members of the mystical body of Christ.
“May the Eucharist give us the courage to live and die like Father Ragheed.
“Giving into the temptation of revenge does not honor Father Ragheed, but rather promoting peace, dialogue, and constructing or building a civilization of love.”
On Sunday, another requiem Mass was celebrated by Father Joseph Chedid in the Church of St. Roukoz of the Antonine Maronite order in Lebanon.
In his homily, Father Chedid, an Antonine priest and friend of Father Ragheed, spoke about the “souls of the martyrs whose blood was shed to witness to the word of God.”
He asked the faithful to pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Iraqi people, and especially for Christians, to remove the “dark clouds hanging over them during the dreadful situation they are experiencing.”