Newsflash Archives >Top Ten People of 2007 - #7 Fr. Ragheed Ganni
Top Ten People of 2007 - #7
Inside the Vatican has again chosen 10 men and women as its "Top Ten People of the Year." Profiles of each of the 10 will be published in the upcoming January issue of Inside the Vatican. Meanwhile, we will publish the profiles day by day in these email newsflashes, and on our Web site.
#1 - Francis Beckwith
#2 - Immacolata Solaro del Borgo
#3 - Sir Martin Gilbert
#4 - Brian Boyle
#5 - Fr. Bernardo Cervellera
#6 - Aung San Suu Kyi
#7 - FR. RAGHEED GANNI
By Tony and Andrea Assaf
On June 3, 2007, a Chaldean priest and three deacons were shot and killed in front of Holy Spirit Church in Mosul, Iraq. The murdered priest was Ragheed Ganni, a 34-year-old who had studied in Rome from 1996-2003 at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the "Angelicum," and who had resided at the Pontifical Irish College.
Though he was but one among the many innocents who are killed in Iraq each day, Fr. Ragheed’s brutal murder was nevertheless a shocking and cathartic event that sent reverberations around the world.
The death was noted by the Pope and the Irish president, and in hundreds of newspaper columns, magazine articles, and websites; protest demonstrations were held in the U.S., Sweden, Germany, France, and Rome.
Well-traveled, highly-educated and known for his holiness and charisma, Fr. Ragheed was a "costly sacrifice" for the Chaldean Church, in the words of Benedict XVI.
In a way, Fr. Ragheed was a typical representative of all the Iraqi Christians who have become persecuted victims of the violence that has been unleashed in their country, but in another way he was quite exceptional.
Fr. Ragheed gave a rare and inspiring witness to the faith through his death, a death he well knew could be his and a death he accepted.
Born in the predominantly Christian city of Mosul in northern Iraq, Ragheed Ganni obtained a degree in engineering in 1993 and then entered the seminary. Sent to Rome by his bishop, he received a licentiate degree in Ecumenical Theology from the Angelicum and was ordained a priest in Rome in 2001.
He often spent his summers in Ireland, working at the shrine of Lough Derg in Donegal. The year he was finishing his degree in Rome the Iraq war began. In a prewar interview with this magazine, Fr. Ragheed expressed his opposition to the invasion, one of the reasons being that Iraqi Christians would be targeted and persecuted by Islamic fanatics. Yet despite this prophecy, Fr. Ragheed never doubted that he would return to serve the country and people he loved.
The gravity of his decision was almost immediately felt: in 2004 Fr. Ganni was accosted by armed Islamic militants who took him from the residence of the archbishop of Mosul and made him watch as they set off bombs they had placed within the building.
Later, Fr. Ganni received several death threats, and his Holy Spirit Church was the scene of several attacks. Less than a month before he was killed, the church had suffered damage from bombing.
After Fr. Ragheed’s death, Fr. Philip Najim, the procurator of the Chaldean Church to the Holy See, declared the slain priest a martyr of the Chaldean Church, which is suffering and has shed its blood in what Benedict XVI calls the Church of the Living Martyrs. His martyrdom, Najim added, "should be a dawn for the life and peace of Iraq, giving room to Christian hope. We need the Holy See to encourage the Church in Iraq and all Christians to unity."
Benedict XVI was deeply saddened by the senseless killing of Fr. Ganni and his friends.
In a telegram that Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone sent to Fr. Ragheed’s bishop in the Pope’s name, Benedict said that "Ragheed’s sacrifice will inspire in the hearts of all men and women of good will a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence, to conquer evil with good and to cooperate in hastening the dawn of reconciliation, justice and peace in Iraq."
The Irish president, Mary McAleese, wrote, in a letter read at the Requiem Mass for Fr. Ragheed at the Irish College, that "Fr. Ragheed Ganni’s death challenges us to work for reconciliation between faiths and to create a world in which each human life is revered... Fr. Ragheed lived his life by a commandment to love. In our sorrow we remember his willing sacrifice in service of his faith."
Fr. Robert Christian, one of Fr. Ragheed’s professors at the Angelicum, the university he would have returned to for his doctoral studies had he survived, gave this moving tribute to his friend and student during a Requiem Mass held at the university: "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... There is the awareness that we are before a person who was prepared to pay the supreme price; a person ready to shed his blood for the life of the faithful."
The source of Fr. Ragheed’s uncommon fortitude was the Eucharist.
He himself said during the Eucharistic Congress in Bari, Italy, in May 2005: "The terrorists want to take our lives, but the Eucharist gives it back to us. Terrorists try to kill our bodies, but because of the violence of the fundamentalists we have discovered that the Eucharist gives us life, and this is the source of our hope."
Tony and Andrea Assaf are contributors to Inside the Vatican and were friends of Fr. Ganni.
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Inside The Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579) is a Catholic news magazine, published monthly except July
and September, with occasional special supplements.