Six years ago, on June 3, 2007 (Trinity Sunday in that year), Fr. Ragheed Aziz Ganni was martyred outside of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq, after celebrating Mass. Three subdeacons also lost their lives in the attack.
Much has changed in Iraq in the last six years, but very little of it for the better. Like Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and Chaldean Catholic patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, Father Ragheed had predicted that the U.S.-led war in Iraq would be disastrous for the Christian population. By most estimates, as many as 90 percent of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since 2003, with many finding refuge in Syria, where they are now once again threatened by the uprisings against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Throughout the Middle East, Christians are the unreported victims of violence unleashed by U.S. intervention and the so-called Arab Spring.
The threats against the priest began less than a year after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and Father Ragheed suspected that his days were numbered. Yet he found in persecution a renewed faith and a cause for hope. And his death, as tragic as it was, helped at least one Muslim friend of Father Ragheed to understand what the true Christian life entails: the willingness to follow Christ unto death, and through one's own death, to preach Christ and His Resurrection to the world.
As we remember Father Ragheed and his fellow martyrs (Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid, and Wadid Hanna), we recall the prophetic words of this martyred Iraqi priest:
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.
As the Eucharist gave Father Ragheed the strength to face his martyrdom in faith, may it, and the example of Father Ragheed and his fellow martyrs, give us the strength as well to face the trials and tribulations of our own lives. And may God grant Fr. Ragheed Aziz Ganni, Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid, and Wadid Hanna eternal rest.