Paisley Bishop and Motherwell priest among the delegation from Aid to the Church in Need who visited Tomb of priest murdered by militants
A SCOTTISH delegation took inspiration from a priest murdered by Isis as they visited the Catholics in Iraq recovering from terror and persecution.
Bishop John Keenan of Paisley Diocese and Fr Martin Delaney, a priest of Motherwell, returned last week from the visit with pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, and said there is much Scotland can learn form the ‘joyful witness to the Faith’ of the Catholics who survived the brutal occupation of terrorist militants.
A group of 10, including head of ACN operations in Scotland Lorraine McMahon, travelled to the Ninevah Plains in Northern Iraq from Monday October 29 to Saturday November 3, to witness the incredible work being done by ACN to rebuild the lives and homes of persecuted Christians in Iraq.
Fr Delaney, parish priest of St Aloysius and Sacred Heart churches in Chapelhall and an ACN advisor, revealed that the trip has inspired him to renew his commitment to building up the Church in Scotland.
“ACN is a sign of hope for [Iraqi Christians], and a sign of the care and concern of the universal body of Christ. But there is also much for us to learn from the Christians of Iraq—about how to bear joyful witness to the Faith, and how to become ourselves a missionary Church,” he said.
“They have helped me and inspired me to renew my commitment to building up the Church here in Scotland.”
During the visit, the ACN group visited the Tomb of Fr Ragheed Ganni, a murdered Iraqi priest, shot by Isis for ‘not closing the house of God.’ Fr Ganni studied at the Irish college in Rome and was known as being a good footballer by previous Scottish seminarians. He is a possible candidate for sainthood.
Fr Delaney said: “For me, it was a special moment to pray at the tomb of Fr Ragheed Ganni, who was shot dead in Mosul in 2007 for refusing to close the church.
“We met many priests who are continuing his legacy today by their devotion to God and their great desire to remain with their people in the midst of trying circumstances. “We also met 10 seminarians who are hoping to be ordained priests for the same reason, while their families were all on the other side of the world. These men are signs of hope for the Church in Iraq.”
Following the visit to the Tomb the group visited Gazella, a woman in her 80s who was seized by Isis when they invaded her town.
She told her captors that love, kindness, forgiveness and mercy can bring about the kingdom of God on earth and that ‘if you want to kill us for our Faith then we are prepared to die here now.’ Incredibly, Isis released her.
Bishop Keenan and Fr Delaney spent one night during the trip in a seminary which three years previously Isis had taken over as a town headquarters.
Fr Delaney said: “To sleep in the seminary formerly occupied by Isis was an experience I’ll never forget.
“What was most apparent was the sheer destruction and devastation everywhere. It was easy to see why, despite everything, the people are afraid that Isis, or an equivalent, will come back.”
Bishop Keenan added: “Three quarters of the seminary building was still marred by the presence of Isis. The bell tower was destroyed; there were bullet holes all over the building and some rooms had still to be cleaned up.
“The stay there really allowed us to connect with the what had happened during the IS regime and because of the visible damage there was definitely a lingering presence which was eerie, but I was glad of the experience because it gave me a sense of how uncomfortable it must have been for Iraqi’s living under Isis.”
The group also met with ordinary Christians who are beginning to return to their burned out homes following the defeat of Isis.
Bishop John Keenan said: “What was a real privilege it was to have met the Christian community of Iraq. Their astounding Faith is something that will stay with me forever. From the archbishops, to the priests and to the lay Christian homes we visited, their Faith was in everything—right down to their boots and equally in the young people and the elderly.
“I was taken aback driving through towns and villages by all of the destruction across the landscape by Isis, it was quite devastating. Building after building we visited had been attacked; crosses and statues smashed to pieces or set on sire. Real devastation. Yet the Church in Iraq is central to rebuilding people’s lives.”
Following the defeat of Isis in Northern Iraq in 2016, the Ninevah Plains Reconstruction Committee (NRC) was established to start rebuilding homes and churches.
The NRC, Bishop Keenan said, phoned-up displaced refugees in Lebanon and Germany and asked them to come back to Iraq to help them rebuild the country.
ACN Scotland’s Lorraine McMahon said among the charity’s projects in Iraq is helping churches work together to grade the level of destruction of buildings.
“The NRC is responsible for the reconstruction of Church properties, Churches, schools, nurseries, hospitals and community halls,” she said. “In October 2017, 10 families had committed to return. Now in 2018, 1,250 families have returned, which is amazing.”
Ms McMahon added: “Our aim of this trip with Bishop John and Fr Martin was to see the progress, which has been made, in a number of our projects and to witness the journey that persecuted Christians have been on in a country which has been devastated by [Isis].
“Twice now I have visited Iraq and it is life changing. We take so much for granted.
Every situation and trauma imaginable, theses people have been through and its
something that we’ll never fully be able to appreciate—the Faith they have is incredible.”
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National director of ACN said: “The most extraordinary thing we saw in Iraq was the Faith of the people, despite all the persecution they have endured.
“It was inspiring and uplifting to see how they have responded in the face of such immense challenges – and I’m sure that their witness helped to deepen the Faith of everyone who went on the project trip to the Nineveh Plains.
“Seeing what has been achieved with the help of ACN was a great encouragement. People who were driven out of their towns and villages, and at one time lived as internal refugees in their own country, not knowing what the future held in store for them, have now been able to return home.
“We have been privileged to help sustain the Christian Faith in its biblical homeland.
“To celebrate Mass in a burnt-out Church on All Saints Day and meet the living saints who have gone through so much suffering was something we’ll never forget.”