On April 1 -- Palm Sunday -- after bullets were fired into the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq, during mass, the pastor, Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic, e-mailed friends at the Asia Times:
"We empathize with Christ, who entered Jerusalem in full knowledge that the consequence of His love for mankind was the cross. Thus, while bullets smashed our church windows, we offered our suffering as a sign of love for Christ."
The attacks continued. Father Ragheed wrote again: "Each day we wait for the decisive attack, but we will not stop celebrating mass; we will do it underground, where we are safer. I am encouraged in this decision by the strength of my parishioners. This is war, real war, but we hope to carry our cross to the very end with the help of Divine Grace."
As the bombings in Mosul and Baghdad rose during April and May, and priests were kidnapped, Father Ragheed grew weary. In his last e-mail, May 28, he wrote, "We are on the verge of collapse."
A day before, Pentecost Sunday, a bomb exploded in his church, and Father Ragheed seemed dispirited: "In a sectarian and confessional Iraq, will there be any space for Christians? We have no support, no group who fights for our cause; we are abandoned in the midst of the disaster. Iraq has already been divided. It will never be the same. What is the future of our church?"
Though tempted by despair, Father Ragheed did not give up hope.
"I may be wrong, but I am certain about one thing -- one single fact that is always true: that the Holy Spirit will enlighten people so that they will work for the good of humanity, in this world so full of evil."
Following mass on Trinity Sunday, a week after Pentecost Sunday, Father Ragheed and three sub-deacons were seized, taken away and murdered. Their killers placed vehicles loaded with explosives around the bodies so no one would dare approach them.
The story of "The Last Mass of Father Ragheed, a Martyr of the Chaldean Church," is related by Sandro Magister of www.Chiesa.com.
Father Ragheed had completed his studies in Rome in 2003, Magister writes, and returned full of hope. "That is where I belong, that is my place," he said of Iraq. "Saddam has fallen, we have elected a government, we have voted for a constitution."
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