An armed group gunned down and killed Fr Ragheed Ganni and three of his aides. The murder took place right after Sunday mass in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul where Father Ragheed was parish priest. Sources told AsiaNews that hours later the bodies were still lying in the street because no one dared retrieve them. Given the situation tensions in the area remain high.
For some time since the fall of Saddam Hussein Christians have become victims of what amounts to an open campaign of persecution often denounced by Chaldean and Orthodox bishops.
Father Ragheed himself had been targeted several times in previous attacks. The Church of the Holy Spirit has also been repeatedly attacked and bombed in the last few years, the last time occurred but a few months ago.
Father Ganni was a great friend of AsiaNews. He had studied in Italy and was fluent in Arabic as well as Italian, French and English. In 2005 he had visited Italy where he gave testimony during the Vigil to Eucharistic Congress in Bari.
Meanwhile new information surrounding the nature of the attack has come to light. 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.
The Eucharist is a source of life even when one’s daily experience is death. This is true for Mosul (northern Iraq), a city where residents constantly live in fear of kidnappings and car bombs, but where churches remain open and Christians go to mass in great numbers because "without the Eucharist life would be impossible".
Fr Ragheed Ganni, 33, a Chaldean clergyman from Mosul is a witness to the Eucharist’s power. After leaving his city, he reached Bari (southern Italy) via Aleppo and Rome. Here, on May 28, on the eve of the Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the city, he spoke about his experience.
After seven years in Italy, Father Ragheed went back to his native Iraq in November 2003. In the last year, he has seen several anti-Christian attacks in the diocese of Mosul.
Here is what he said during Saturday’s vigil.
"Mosul Christians are not theologians; some are even illiterate. And yet inside of us for many generations one truth has become embedded: without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live."
"This is true today when evil has reached the point of destroying churches and killing Christians, something unheard of in Iraq till now."
"On June 2004 of last year, a group of young women was cleaning the church to get it ready for Sunday service. My sister Raghad, who is 19, was among them."
"As she was carrying a pail of water to wash the floor, two men drove up and threw a grenade that blew up just a few yards away from her."
"She was wounded but miraculously survived. And on that Sunday we still celebrated the Eucharist. My shaken parents were also there.
"For me and my community, my sister’s wounds were a source of strength so that we, too, may bear our cross."
"Last August in St Paul Church, a car bomb exploded after the 6 pm mass. The blast killed two Christians and wounded many others. But that, too, was another miracle?the car was full of bombs but only one exploded. Had they all gone off together the dead would have been in the hundreds since 400 faithful had come on that day."
"People could not believe what had happened. The terrorists might think they can kill our bodies or our spirit by frightening us, but, on Sundays, churches are always full. They may try to take our life, but the Eucharist gives it back."
"On December 7, the eve of the Immaculate Conception, a group of terrorist tried to destroy the Chaldean Bishop’s Residence, which is near Our Lady of the Tigris Shrine, a place venerated by both Christians and Muslims."
"They placed explosives everywhere and a few minutes later blew the place up. This and fundamentalist violence against young Christians have forced many families to flee. Yet the Churches have remained open and people continue to go to mass, even among the ruins".
"It is among such difficulties that we understand the real value of Sunday, the day when we meet the Risen Christ, the day of our unity and love, of our [mutual] support and help."
"There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say ‘Behold the Lamb of God Behold, who takes away the sin of the world’, I feel His strength in me. When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really He who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in His boundless love."
"In normal times, everything is taken for granted and we forget the greatest gift that is made to us. Ironically, it is thanks to terrorist violence that we have truly learnt that it is the Eucharist, the Christ who died and risen, that gives us life. And this allows us to resist and hope."