The tomb of Father Ragheed Ganni in Karemlash, Northern Iraq. (Edward Pentin)
The Iraqi priest martyred by Islamist fighters in Mosul in 2007 remains an inspiration for many Christian victims of persecution and those defending them.
The Vatican has formally opened the canonization cause of Iraqi Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and three deacons who were gunned down in Mosul in 2007.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, confirmed in a March 1 letter released on Monday that the Vatican had no objection to starting the process of canonization of Father Ganni and Deacons Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Isam Bidawid.
A group of armed Islamist fighters shot dead the four men near the Chaldean Holy Spirit church where Father Ganni was parish priest. He had just celebrated Mass there on Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, on June 3, 2007.
As they were walking away from the church, the armed men stopped them, warned Father Ganni to close the church and demanded to know why he had not done so.
Father Ganni replied: “How can I close the house of God?” The gunmen ordered Deacon Isho’s wife to flee, demanded that the four men convert to Islam and when they refused, took their lives. The car was then rigged with explosives to prevent the bodies being recovered, but a bomb disposal team managed to defuse the devices, allowing the corpses to be buried.
Thousands of people attended the funeral of the four men in nearby Karemlash the following day.
“The example and witness of Father Ragheed inspired me from the moment I heard of his martyrdom, one of so many noble martyrs of the great new persecution in the Middle East,” said Father Benedict Kiely, founder of the charity for persecuted Christians, Nasarean.org.
By chance, both Father Kiely and I came across Father Ganni’s tomb when we visited Karemlash last year. ISIS had ransacked Karemlash, Father Ganni’s hometown, during their occupation from 2014-2016. They vandalized Father Ganni’s tombstone but left his resting place untouched.
Father Kiely recalled that to walk into the desecrated church last year and discover his tomb “was a beautiful blessing and sign from Heaven to continue to remind the world of the suffering Christians in the cradle of Christianity.”
The Vatican’s confirmation to open the cause, released by the official media of the Chaldean Patriarchate, came in response to a request to open the cause from Chaldean Bishop Francis Yohana Kalabat of St. Thomas the Apostle in Detroit last November, the pontifical news agency Agenzia Fides reported May 14.
The Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit would be handling the process due to persistent difficult conditions in Mosul, Agenzia Fides said.
Father Ganni was well known in Rome, having completed a licentiate here at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and having resided at the Pontifical Irish College where he used to play soccer.
Fluent in Aramaic, Arabic, Italian, French, and English, he also served as a correspondent for Asia News, the international agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
The Chaldean priest expressed his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, fearing that Iraqi Christians would be targeted and persecuted.
In a telegram sent on behalf of Benedict XVI in 2007, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said Father Ganni’s sacrifice would “inspire in the hearts of all men and women of good will a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence, to conquer evil with good and to cooperate in hastening the dawn of reconciliation, justice and peace in Iraq.”
Father Ganni also served as secretary to Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, who himself was murdered in the city, only nine months after Father Ganni.