This account details the martyrdoms of Chaldean priest, Father Ragheed Ganni, and his fellow subdeacons, Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed.
“Without Sunday, without the Eucharist the Christians in Iraq cannot survive”: that was how Fr Ragheed spoke of his community’s hope, a community that was used to facing death on a daily basis, that same death that yesterday afternoon faced him, on his way home from saying mass.
After having fed his faithful with the Body and Blood of Christ, he gave his own blood, his own life for Iraq, for the future of his Church.
This young priest had willingly, knowingly chosen to remain by the side of his parishioners from Holy Spirit parish in Mosul, judged the most dangerous city after Baghdad. His reasoning was simple: without him, without its pastor, his flock would have been lost. In the barbarity of suicide attacks and bombings, one thing at least was clear, and gave him the strength to resist: “Christ”, Ragheed would say, “challenges evil with his infinite love, he keeps us united and through the Eucharist he gifts us life, which the terrorists are trying to take away”.
He died yesterday, massacred by blind violence. Killed on his way home from Church, where his people, despite their decreasing numbers, bowed by fear and desperation, continued to come. . . .
After an attack on his parish, on Palm Sunday last April 1st he said: “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 Christ”.
“Each day we wait for the decisive attack”, he said just weeks ago, “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 Grace”.
And in the midst of the daily difficulties he himself marvelled at a growing awareness of “the great value of Sunday, the day we met the Risen Lord, the day of unity and of love between his community, of support and help”.
Then the bombings multiplied; the kidnappings of priests in Baghdad and Mosul became more frequent; Sunnis began to demand taxes from Christians to remain in their homes, or face their requisition by militants. Water and electricity grew scarce, telephoning and communicating became difficult. Ragheed began to grow tired, his enthusiasm weakened, to the point where in his last e-mail to AsiaNews, May 28 last, he admitted: “We are on the verge of collapse.” And he told of a bomb exploding in the Holy Spirit Church, on the feast of Pentecost May 27; of the “war” which broke out a week before, 7 car bombings, 10 explosions in swift succession, the three day curfew, “prisoners in our own home”, of not being able to celebrate the feast of the Ascension, 20 May.
He pondered the path his country had taken: “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 this disaster. Iraq has already been divided; it will never be the same. What is the future of our Church?”
After celebrating Sunday mass, Fr Ragheed and his three aides were leaving the Parish by car, accompanied by the wife of one of the sub-deacons,, Gassan Isam Bidawed. In recent days the three insisted on accompanying Fr Ragheed to protect him. “They were young men alive with faith, who accompanied their parish priests every more, risking their lives for their belief in Christ”, their friends tell. Suddenly, at the corner of the road, their car is blocked by unknown armed men militants who order the woman to distance herself from the others and then, in cold blood, shoot the remaining passengers, repeatedly. The aggressor’s then booby trapped the car with explosives; with the aim of further carnage should anyone near the car to recover the bodies. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the bodies remained, abandoned on the city street, because no one dared to approach. It was only towards ten pm (Local time) that security forces finally defused the explosives allowing corpses to be recovered. They now lie in repose in the Church of the Holy Spirit.