The Last Mass of Father Ragheed, a Martyr of the Chaldean Church by Sandro Magister


Ragheed Aziz Ganni born 18 January 1972, Mosul, was a Chaldean Catholic priest. Father Ganni was ordained priest in Rome in October 2001 after studies at the Pontifical Irish College, where he had arrived in 1996 after completing an engineering degree at Mosul University.


They killed him in Mosul, together with three of his subdeacons. In a tormented Iraq, he was a man and a Christian of limpid and courageous faith. Here is a portrait of him, written by someone who knew him well .

ROMA, June 5, 2007 – They killed him on the Sunday after Pentecost, after he had celebrated Mass in his parish church, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, in Mosul.

They killed Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest, together with three subdeacons who were with him – Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed. The assailants led Bidawed’s wife away, and struck down the four men in cold blood. Then they placed vehicles loaded with explosives around their corpses, so that no one would dare to approach them. It was late in the evening before the police in Mosul were able to defuse the explosives and collect the bodies.

The Chaldean Church immediately mourned for them as martyrs. Benedict XVI prayed for them from Rome. Father Ragheed was one of the most limpid and courageous witnesses of the Christian life in a country among the most afflicted.

He was born in Mosul 35 years ago. After graduating from the local university with an engineering degree in 1993, from 1996 to 2003 he studied theology in Rome at the Angelicum, the Pontifical Saint Thomas Aquinas University, pursuing a license in ecumenical theology. Apart from Arabic, he spoke fluent Italian, French, and English. He was a correspondent for the international agency “Asia News,” of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

The day after his martyrdom, “Asia News” published this portrait of him:

“The Eucharist gives back to us the life that the terrorists seek to take away”

“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.

“The young people”, Ragheed told us just days ago, “organized surveillance after the recent attacks against the parish, the kidnappings, the threats to religious; priests celebrate mass amidst the bombed out ruins; mothers worry as they see their children face danger to attend catechism with enthusiasm; the elderly come to entrust their fleeing families to God’s protection, they alone remain in their country where they have their roots and built their homes, refusing to flee. Exile for them is unimaginable”.

Ragheed was one of them, a strong father figure who wanted to protect his children: “It is our duty not to give in to despair: God will listen to our prayers for peace in Iraq”:

In 2003, after finishing his studies in Rome, he decided to return to his country: “that is where I belong, that is my place”. He also returned to help in the rebuilding of his nation, the rebuilding of a “free society”. He spoke of an Iraq full of hope with a captivating smile: “Saddam has fallen, we have elected a government, we have voted for a Constitution!” He organized theology courses for the lay faithful of Mosul; he worked with the young; he consoled disadvantaged families; this month he was engrossed in helping a small child with serious eye problems undergo surgery in Rome.

His testimony is that of an enthusiastic faith. The target of a series of threats stretching back to 2004, he witnessed the pain of relatives and the loss of friends, and yet he carried on to the very end remembering that there was meaning to be found in that suffering, that carnage, that anarchy of violence: it was to be offered up.

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?”.

But then the strength of his faith endured, a tired but solid faith: “I may 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 may work for the good of humanity, in this world so full of evil”.

Dearest Ragheed, together with a heart which cries in pain, you leave us your hope and your certainty. By taking you, they aimed to wipe out the hope of Iraq’s Christians. Instead, your martyrdom nourishes and gives new life to your community, to the Iraqi Church and the Church throughout the world. Thank you, Ragheed!

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2 thoughts on “The Last Mass of Father Ragheed, a Martyr of the Chaldean Church by Sandro Magister

  1. working here for almost 19 years in the neighboring kuwait, i had seen it all since 1983, how even bretheren in faith can betray each other…. i only know my son, is that the current world trend is terrorism in the anti-christ sphere, 9 billions of them;however not all, a portion of them is being called by our Lord….we ought to pray and just show them the goodness, honest truthfulness of the Word displayed in our unveiled faces , all the words of faith written in our hearts is with the blood of our Lord and all these atrocities done to the body of Christ is all regarded by God as a seed of faith to some who would follow the ESSAH MESSIAH, similarly to Saul of Tarsus, Lord Jesus will blind some of their commanding generals of terrorism and be reprimanded by the living God to stop the persecution of the minor ethnic Christians in Iraq, Iran, the Gulf, Northern African states,,,and throughout the Arabian/Afro/Asian peninsulas…..we as loving born-again believers to Christ in these last days should pray for them, specifically….as they are being used by the ruler of this world to control the people by their aggressions….contrary to our faith whereby we dwelt with them in peace we pray for them incessantly , all moves of GOD and the communal body of CHRIST, ONE MIND ONE HOLY EUCHARIST—that divine grace to forgive them and ask GOD for unmerited favor in their behalf to forgive them for they do not know what they are doing….
    listen my son, i am a senior medical technologist here in the Arabian Gulf, all I can observe in our faith is the more we pray and we get closer to the LORD JESUS, THE HOLY SPIRIT DICTATES US TO JUST BE CALM AND TRANQUIL IN THIS POISED STATE BECAUSE ON THE DAY OF RECKONING WHEN HE COMES, WE ALL WHO TRULY BELIEVED AND TRUSTED THE LIVING GOD AND NOT THE FABLED GOD OF THE CRESCENTS,,,SHALL BE FOUND IN A VERY SERENE STATE AND TRULY I SAY TO YOU THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS AT WORK IN YOU, IN US ALL THE TENT-MISSIONARIES-THE OCW’S —Revelation/revolutionary application of the word of God translated by our unwavering faith keeps the HOLY SPIRIT ACTIVE IN REVIVING ALL DENOMINATIONS OF CHRISTIAN BODY….Just there is an Ecumenical Council of CHURCHES IN our islands, here we can see a GERMINATION OF FAITH, NOT BASED ON IGNORANCE OF TRADITION, BUT THE REAL WORKING FAITH—24/7—unceasing seconds of the day pray…u need not stop your busy working hands in secular job, but simultaneously be aware of HIS GLORIOUS PRESENCE DAILY ANYTIME ANYWHERE ANYPERSON ANYBODY—IRRESPECTIVE OF YOUR SOCIAL POSITION, CHURCH STANDING OR BACKGROUND, KAHIT SAAN AT SINU KA PA MAN, MATANDA BATA , CATOLICO O PROTESTANTE—IISA LANG ANG BAGAY NG GUSTO NG DIOS AMA SA DULONG SEGMENT NG CIVILIZATION NG PISCEAN AGE IS TO GET UNITED IN ONE SINGLE ACCORD—-ONE UNISON OF PRAYER ANYTIME HA ANYWHERE AND I SPEAK TO YOU ALL MY BELOVED CATHOLIC FRIENDS, since all my parents and relatives are, and even my beloved UST—-only one key is missing —-humility and loving kindness to UNITE THE BODY OF CHRIST IN PRAYER AND BROTHERLY LOVE, NO DISTINCTION OF various doctrines all devised to separate the one NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH, we all borne from Judeo belief, our true Rabbinic Yeshua MEsiiah’s HOLY SPIRIT indwells each one of true believers—–THE DIVINE WILL OF the TRI-UNE GOD IS UNITY OF THE CHURCH, THE BRIDE—BLAMELESS N SPOTLESS IN THIS DYING WORLD….MAY WE ALL BE FOUND WELCOMED AND SO CHERISHED AND SO LOVED BY LORD JESUS WHEN HE ASK US TO COME IN HIS HOLY ABODE, AMEN –AS I KNOW IN THAT PLACE THERE SHALL BE NO MORE DIVISIVE RELIGIONS, THE SYSTEM OF FAITH THAT SECLUDES EVEN MY DEAREST SUNNI MOSLEM FRIENDS WHO TRULY LOVE PEACE, ALLAH(Hebrew word for COVENANT-KEEPING GOD) KARIM!–god is so generous that HE ALLOWS THAT THOSE MUCH AWAITED SHEEP THAT ARE NOT YET FOUND AND STILL INCOMING BE GIVEN AN AMPLE AMOUNT MORE–that’s why we are here the unveiled faces to reveal to them what is missing in their genuine holiness is the PURIFIER THE TRUE HOLY SPIRIT AL TAWDROUS, OH GOD LET IT BE A BLESSING TO THOSE BEAUTIFUL-HEARTED Bedouins in the true faith TO GET SHOWN LOTS OF OPEN VISIONS AND DREAMS, SIGNS AND WONDERS IN THESE END TIMES, LEST YOUR GOSPEL BE PUBLISHED BY THESE COURAGEOUS FILIPINO WOMEN AND MEN, THE WONDERFUL TRUE COUNSELOR IS IN US AND WHATEVER HAPPENS IN THE NEXT WEEK, NEXT MONTHS, NEXT FEW YEARS BE NOT AFRAID OUR REDEMPTION IS COMING NIGH, BEHOLD HIS HOLINESS, MAY YOU BE FIND HOLY AND PURE ACCEPTABLE BY THE TRUE KING OF KINGS, THE TRUE AND FAITHFUL! LORD JESUS, MY LORD, THE SON OF GOD WHO CONQUERS ALL MANKIND’S FRIVOLITY AND SENSELESSNESS—HE REDEEM ALL, EVEN THOSE WHO DO NOT WANT TO BE SAVED, HE STILL INSIST BECAUSE DAMNATION IS NOT WHAT HE WANTS, HE WANTS ALL TO BE SAVED BY JUST THAT EVEN SMALL SEED OF FAITH IN HIM CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THAT DAY OF VENGEANCE AND WRATH,,,,AMEN!

  2. Rest in Peace Father. I am really sad and feel holepess as I heard the news that I expected from the moment that the lovely Bishop was kidnapped. My country was not like this we lived in peace with our Muslim neighbours and to this day many Iraqis of the Islamic faith are my friends. None of us can explain what is really going on in Iraq today. I want to make it clear that Iraq was a GREAT place to live until 1979 from then until this day it has got steadily worse. I was never a supporter of Saddam Hussein but since this was a war of choice and not of self defence it would have been really nice if the American and British Governments and others who supported them have been more careful and took greater care in managing the aftermath of the war. I stress that life under Saddam was bad but it is rather sad and depressing state of affairs when I come to look at the dark days of Saddam as better than what we have now! Operation Iraqi Freedom merely replaced the Iraqi Hell under Saddam with the Iraqi Hell under Al-Qaeda and its supporters. The temperature of hell under Saddam was 500C it’s now 1500C.Iraq has finished and in time it will fall apart and will become a number of smaller states. How democratic and friendly to the West will those new countries be I am not sure?It is difficult for me to accept that what Iraq has today is Freedom and we are simply having a difficult birth. I have to tell you that Iraq and Iraqis since its birth in 1920 (current borders, etc) as a country (regardless of faith or race) have systematically been brutalised, occupied, raped, murdered and made refugees in their own land and elsewhere. Today in Iraq we are not served by faithful and loyal leaders rather treated even more badly than before and Iraq’s economy is mismanaged horrendously even when compared to Saddam’s stupid stewardship of the state of Iraq and its economy this lot could not even arrange to serve coffee at a cafe9. My 7 year old kid could sincerely do a much better job. No gas, no petrol (yet we are talking about a country that supposedly has the second largest oil reserve after Saudi Arabia), no reliable clean drinking water (we now have Cholera), no phone system that actually works, no electricity, a health system that was once one of the best in the Middle East is now worse than most poor African Countries, teachers and University Professors leaving the country because they are constantly being killed. It is really upsetting that 5 years after the end of the brutal regime of Saddam we are MUCH, MUCH worse off as a nation with the exception of the Kurdistan province of Iraq. Even there this owes little if anything to the war of 2003, the Kurdish people who had been gassed by Saddam understandably welcomed the removal of the dictator yet if Kurdistan is such a great place then why are so many Iraqi Kurds still applying for asylum worldwide? The truth is that while by Iraqi standards Kurdistan is relatively safe it is still not a bed of roses and that the Kurdish government just like its counterpart in Baghdad is corrupt and only serves the interests of those related to the leaders, their family and friends. I lived as a child in Basrah and it was a nice lovely place to live and I can tell you that ALL of our Muslim neighbours bar non were the salt of the earth, the nicest people you would ever wish or want to meet yet today poor Basrah is in a terrible state. It was not enough that it had to endure the worst action of the Iraq-Iran War and then the brutality of Saddam and the worst sanctions in the history of the UN it then got a real good kick in when the British Army (no less) left the city and left it to the murders Shia militias who are terrorising all the people (regardless of their faith). The British Army from the start was too soft and adopted a very strange posture, the British Army while obliged under all sorts of conventions to protect the people of the city, the British Army never got involved.It is not good to simply mention the 2 elections that we have had since 2003 and while by most standards the elections were free and fair they did not bring about democracy. I say that because of a very curious system in Iraq which is called the List where you can have for example the Communists, the Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats in one list! The list that won both elections in Iraq was a Shia list which, had in it parties who would normally not even stay in the same city let alone in the same political list! The list contained parties that actually fought and still fight each other. However, they knew that they would win seats in the elections and therefore get their hands on money and power. It is not wrong to criticise what is going on in Iraq today and I am not and was not a supporter of Saddam’s regime however, it is quite depressing that if you object to the horror that is Iraq today then those who supported the original decision of the war come back with arguments such as; it was not better before and it was even worse but it was not reported and the press today are only interested in bad news! The last time I saw and heard the news about any country and any place it was about reporting tragedy and not about opening a new school (this is the job of the local press usually). On the subject of good news I would be thrilled and delighted if today Iraq was no longer in the news because Iraq had become like Switzerland!I am sorry for all my friends and the few family members who still live in Iraq today. I repeat this was a war of choice and not of self defence and those who had planned it had a duty to ensure that it went better and that the country did not have its present nightmare. I promise you that I cried (tears of joy) when I saw the statue of Saddam fall down and would have been thrilled (despite my objections and reservations about the decision to go to war) if Iraq had become the beacon of democracy and freedom and liberty that we were promised by President Bush and Mr Blair. It is particularly upsetting to me to see someone like Mr Blair now having such a great time and going around the world telling others how they should conduct themselves. Even the Catholic Church in England has fallen in love with Mr Blair (at least the good Cardinal has).In the meantime Iraqi Christians will through persecution by various elements, including Islamic extremist and the wilful and deliberate negligence of the new Iraqi political elite will, without doubt be persecuted until we either leave Iraq all together or are exterminated by dying there. Christianity first sprouted in the land that is now known as Iraq in the first century AD and yet we are strangers in our own land and not wanted elsewhere. I wish all Iraqis well and hope that God can help us today and every day. I pray for peace and for all the victims of the war.Was it worth it? Tens of thousands dead {(if not more) on ALL SIDES), millions of refugees inside and outside Iraq and billions spent and above all terrorism has continued in Iraq and elsewhere. Was it worth the sacrifice? If I want to wish you true ill then I pray that you will get Freedom, Liberty and democracy Bush and Blair style. Tragedy has built its statue in Iraq and it’s not a woman welcoming you as you enter some harbour but it is rather the Grim Reaper waiting to scythe you down.May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.Tim Shamoon

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