By Ibar Quirke
Ragheed Ganni was born on 20 January 1972 in Mosul, one of a large and devout Chaldean Catholic family. This quick-witted youngster made his First Holy Communion on 1 May 1982 and carried a deep love of the Eucharist with him through the remainder of his life. Having completed secondary school and undertaken compulsory military-service in the Iraqi Armed Forces, he was able to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Mosul, from which he graduated in 1993, before discerning a vocation to the priesthood and entering the diocesan seminary.
In 1996, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul sent him to study in Rome, despite there being no specific seminary there to serve Chaldean Catholic seminarians and priests. Ragheed Ganni stayed in the Irish College in Rome during the remainder of his seminary-training and affectionately became known there as “Paddy the Iraqi”, where he was well-liked by the faculty and all his fellow pots-grads. In addition to his regular studies, he completed a Licentiate in ecumenical theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in 2003, having been ordained to the priesthood at the Pontifical Urban University on 13 October 2001, celebrating his First Mass in the Chapel of the Irish College. He regularly offered Mass for the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, then housed on the grounds of the Irish College. He also became involved with the Community of Sant'Egidio and was deeply committed to their outreach towards the poor, especially towards the homeless to whom he regularly delivered meals. During this time, he also visited Ireland on a number of occasions, perfecting his English by serving at Lough Derg during the Summer Pilgrimage Season. However, his main priority returned to his native Iraq after its invasion in March 2003.
Despite pleas to stay in the safety of Rome, Fr Ragheed felt a very strong need to return to his native Iraq to provide practical and pastoral support to the Chaldean Catholic community struggling amidst rising sectarianism after its invasion in March 2003. Upon his return to Mosul, he was appointed to Holy Spirit Chaldean Catholic Church, where he undertook an energetic pastoral ministry, eventually serving as the local Parish Priest. Fluent in Aramaic, Arabic, Italian, French, and English, Fr Ragheed worked as a correspondent with the international agency Asia News of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and chose to remain in Mosul despite being judged as the most dangerous city in Iraq after Baghdad. He felt a very strong commitment to defend the needs of his parishioners from encroaching terrorism, rearing its ugly head in the form of barbarous suicide-attacks and bombings, by encouraging them to remain loyal to their Faith. "Christ 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". To this end, he commented at the 2005 National Eucharistic Congress in Bari, Italy, that: - “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." In this same address, he ended with words which would manifest his deep commitment towards and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist: - a Presence which gave him the strength and courage to survive many hardships and persecutions, not only against his life as a priest, but also against the trials and tribulations of living without water and electricity: - “There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say 'Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him 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 ... 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, through terrorist violence that we have truly learned that it is the Eucharist, the Christ who died and rose, that gives us life. And this allows us to resist and hope."
Servant Of God Fr Ragheed Ganni – the Priest Who Gave His Life for His Flock in Iraq – would eventually make the ultimate sacrifice of his own life, with three sub-deacons including his cousin Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed in front of Holy Spirit Chaldean Catholic Church, on 3 June 2007. The funeral Mass of these four men brought thousands of people to Karamlesh on 4 June 2007 in a communal exercise of grief and defiance.
PRAYER FOR THE CAUSE OF FATHER RAGHEED GANNI
Your servant and priest, Fr Ragheed Ganni, was given as a gift to your faithful, and by your grace, was found worthy to endure a martyr's death. I beseech you, Lord, to grant this petition through the intercession of your beloved martyr. (Mention your request)
Help me to imitate Fr Ragheed in giving my life to you in love, so that one day I might be worthy to attend the heavenly banquet. Amen.