A Modern Martyr
It was sad to read of last Sunday's murder of Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni, a 35 year-old Chaldean priest, and three deacons as they were driving away after Mass in Mosul. A friend e-mailed to say that he was a student at the Irish College during my time in Rome, but the name didn't ring any bells.
However, when I saw his picture on the front page of this week's Catholic Herald, I recognised him from my six month stay at the Irish College in 2000-01 (when the Venerable English College was closed due to Legionnaire's Disease). Though I didn't know him well, I remember he always wore a clerical shirt and that he was proud of belonging to the Patriarchate of Babylon!
At his Ordination in October 2001, Fr Ragheed predicted that he wouldn't live more than two years as a priest. According to Asia News:
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 a sense 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 sufferance 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”.
We honour the martyrs of the past - the martyrs of the catacombs or the English and Welsh Martyrs - but there are also martyrs amongst us. Bishop Rino Fischella used to read out in his Fundamental Theology lectures at the Gregorian University the names of alumni who had been martyred over the past twelve months. Fr Ragheed is the latest of these modern witnesses - and a new martyr of the Irish College, to join St Oliver Plunkett and his companions. Requiescat in pace!