Every year, from November 25th to December 1st, Aid to the Church in Need Ireland invites parishes across the country to join us in a Week of Witness for suffering and persecuted Christians. This special week involves important talks and exhibitions throughout the island of Ireland on the theme of Christian persecution. During the ‘Week of Witness’, ACN Ireland will hold the Red Wednesday Prayer Vigil with the prayerful assistance of dioceses and parishes throughout the country. Red Wednesday is an opportunity for the faithful to gather as a community of worshippers to publicly affirm their thanks to God, their spiritual union with persecuted Christians - and to pray for those who persecuted the Church and Her faithful.
For more information, see the Aid to the Church in Need website:
In this article, I reflect on the witness of Fr Ragheed Ganni who died for his faith on 3rd June 2007 and whose cause for beatification is underway.
‘HE HOLDING ME’ – THE INSPIRING WITNESS OF FR RAGHEED GANNI, SERVANT OF GOD
By Fr Billy Swan
I lived with Fr Ragheed Ganni, a priest of the diocese of Mosul, Iraq, at the Irish College in Rome from 2002 to 2003. Ragheed was very popular, respected and mixed well with everyone. He played football, table tennis and took a full part in the life of the College. Like his colleagues from Iraq and other troubled parts of the world, I admired the clarity of his identity as a Christian and as a priest. He was clear in what he stood for and clear about the price to pay for living the Gospel in a hostile environment.
In March 2003, the war on terror reached Iraq with the invasion of the Allied troops. After he completed his studies in June that year, we bid him farewell on the steps of the College as he left to return home. On arriving in Mosul, he was appointed as parish priest but dark clouds soon began to gather. He was warned several times by extremists to shut down his parish and send the people away, but he refused.
In May 2005, Fr Ragheed was invited to speak at a Eucharistic Congress in Bari in the South-East of Italy to share his experience of living as a Christian under persecution. On that occasion, he shared two profoundly inspiring insights that will always stay with me. Concerning the Eucharist and what it meant for the Christians of Iraq, Ragheed said: ‘For us Christians in Iraq, the terrorists take life, but the Eucharist gives it back’. He also shared on that occasion:
‘There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say 'Behold the Lamb of God. Behold He who takes away the sin of the world'. Then I feel His strength in me. When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really He who is holding me’.
On 3rd June 2007, Fr. Ragheed Ganni was murdered along with three sub-deacons having celebrated Sunday Eucharist. The Chaldean Church mourned the death of their beloved son. The Irish College community mourned our beloved brother as did many other Irish people who knew Ragheed. We were all distraught on hearing about his death. Also because Christian persecution had become real for us in a way that woke us out of our complacency.
After the death of Ragheed, we realised that praying to the martyrs is one thing. Knowing a martyr is another. For us who knew Ragheed, his life and death is a link to a chain of thousands of martyrs from Ireland to Iraq and all around the world. Ragheed Ganni’s life and death connects the Irish Church to the suffering Church of Iraq and the Middle-East.
This deep spiritual connection is visualized in the mosaic in the apse of the chapel in the Irish College in Rome. There Fr Ragheed is pictured carrying a palm branch in the company of St Patrick, St Brigid, St Columbanus, Blessed Don Columba Marmion and St Oliver Plunkett. In 2018, near the eleventh anniversary of the deaths of Fr. Ragheed and his companions, it was announced that their cause had already been opened at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Our dear friend is now known as ‘Fr Ragheed Ganni – Servant of God’. It will be a source of great joy when, God willing, Ragheed will be beatified and canonized a saint of the Church.
Fr Ragheed was one of thousands who suffered enormously for their faith and continue to do so. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ who held on to their faith and the truth of the Gospel while inspiring us to hold firm to ours. May the Lord who held him at the Eucharist and in life, hold him now in love and peace for all eternity.
Fr Ragheed, Servant of God, pray for us.