On April 1—Palm Sunday—after
bullets were fired into the Church of the Holy Spirit in
Mosul, Iraq, during mass, the pastor, Father Ragheed
Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic, e-mailed friends at the
empathize 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 our suffering as a sign of love for
The attacks continued. Father
Ragheed wrote again: "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 the strength of my
parishioners. This is war, real war, but we hope to
carry our cross to the very end with the help of Divine
As the bombings in Mosul and
Baghdad rose during April and May, and priests were
kidnapped, Father Ragheed grew weary. In his last
e-mail, May 28, he wrote, "We are on the verge of
A day before, Pentecost Sunday, a
bomb exploded in his church, and Father Ragheed seemed
dispirited: "In a sectarian and confessional Iraq,
will there be any space for Christians? We have no
support, no group who fights for our cause; we are
abandoned in the midst of the disaster. Iraq has already
been divided. It will never be the same. What is the
future of our church?"
Though tempted by despair, Father
Ragheed did not give up hope.
be wrong, but I am certain about one thing—one single
fact that is always true: that the Holy Spirit will
enlighten people so that they will work for the good of
humanity, in this world so full of evil."
Following mass on Trinity Sunday,
a week after Pentecost Sunday, Father Ragheed and three
sub-deacons were seized, taken away and murdered. Their
killers placed vehicles loaded with explosives around
the bodies so no one would dare approach them.
The story of
The Last Mass of Father Ragheed, a Martyr of the
is related by Sandro Magister of www.Chiesa.
Father Ragheed had completed his
studies in Rome in 2003, Magister writes, and returned
full of hope. "That is where I belong, that is my
place," he said of Iraq. "Saddam has fallen, we
have elected a government, we have voted for a
Since 2003, an immense tragedy has
befallen the Iraqi Christians. In 2000, Chaldeans, Syro-Catholics,
Syro-Orthodox, Assyrians from the East, Catholic and
Orthodox Armenians, and Greek-Melkites together numbered
1.5 million. Today, perhaps 500,000 remain. Hundreds of
thousands have found sanctuary in Syria and Jordan, tens
of thousands in Egypt and Lebanon. Among the refugees
are many of Iraq`s professionals—doctors and teachers
who could have helped build a better future for all in
The region around Mosul and
Nineveh, writes Magister, is the "cradle of
Christianity in Iraq. There are churches and monasteries
that go back to the earliest centuries. … Aramaic, the
language of Jesus, is used in the liturgies."
As the war has dragged on, life
has become hellish for the remaining Christians. Yet
they have never resorted to bombings or assassinations.
Father Ragheed is neither the
first nor last of the Iraqi martyrs.
After Pope Benedict gave his
speech in Regensburg, Germany,
touching on Islam, Father Paulos Iskander was
kidnapped and beheaded in retaliation by the "Lions
of Islam." Father Joseph Petros was murdered. A
Catholic nun told the
Vatican news agency: "The imams preach in the
mosques that it is not a crime to kill Christians. It is
a hunting of men."
In May, St. George`s Assyrian
Church in the Dora neighborhood, a Christian enclave of
Baghdad, was burned down, destroying what had survived a
firebombing in 2004. The Assyrian International News
Agency (AINA) reports it was the 27th church destroyed
by Muslim gangs since the liberation of Iraq.
Now the ancient practice of the
jizya—the "head tax" Muslims have
traditionally imposed on Christians, Jews and religious
minorities—is being reinstituted.
According to AINA, "Al-Qaida is demanding that
Christians pay 250,000 dinars (around $200) for the
right to remain in their own homes, a sum equivalent to
an average month`s salary in Iraq."
All this, and the news of Father
Ragheed`s murder, moved Benedict XVI to raise the issue
with President Bush.
For when Bush left the Vatican, he
told reporters: "He (the pope) is … He was
concerned that the society that was evolving would not
tolerate the Christian religion."
For the martyrdom of Christianity
in its birth cradle, blame must fall heavily upon the
men who conceived this misbegotten war.
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