Apart from the Holy Land itself, the area with the longest continual Christian presence is what is now known as Iraq. According to some traditions, the apostle Thomas brought Christianity to the area shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As I’ve told you before on “BreakPoint,” this Christian presence, which withstood the rise of Islam fourteen centuries ago, is threatened by the current chaos in Iraq. As the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church recently said, “Today, [Iraqi] Christians are persecuted in a country where everyone is fighting for their own personal interests.”
Someone who refused to let the persecution stop him, however, was Father Ragheed Ganni. After graduating with a degree in engineering, Ganni went to Rome to study theology. After his ordination Ganni, who was fluent in French, Italian and English, worked as a correspondent for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
With his abilities, Ganni could have spent his life safely in the Vatican. Instead, after the fall of Saddam, he returned to his native Mosul. As he put it, “This is where I belong; that is my place.”
As pastor at Holy Spirit Parish, Ganni faced death literally every day. But he identified with his parishioners, for whom “exile was unimaginable.” As he told them, “[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.”
On June 3, Father Ganni, along with three deacons, was killed by those terrorists after he had said what turned out to be his last Mass. He was 35 years old. To add insult to injury, the terrorists surrounded the bodies with explosives to prevent police and parishioners from retrieving them. It wasn’t until evening that the bodies were removed from where they lay.
Pope Benedict called Father Ganni’s death a “costly sacrifice [which] will inspire in the hearts of all men and women of good will a renewed resolve to . . . cooperate in hastening the dawn of reconciliation, justice and peace in Iraq.” Father Ganni would no doubt have seen it that way as well.
When he speaks about the plight of Iraq’s Christians, the Patriarch partly lays the blame at the feet of “all those in power who did nothing and are doing nothing to stop this tragedy.”
By “all those in power,” he includes what passes for Iraq’s government, which is being propped up at the cost of $275 million a day, not to mention the incalculable cost in American lives.
If the principal players in this government—Shia, Sunni and Kurds—didn’t care about Christians, that would be an improvement. Instead they are allied with the very forces committing atrocities like Ganni’s murder.
Christians may be the last remaining group that supports what President Bush is trying to accomplish in Iraq. But we need to be the ones to insist that the price of peace in Iraq cannot be the extermination of its Christian community. We must let our leaders know that we will hold them accountable for what happens to that community which can rightly say, “This is where we belong. This is our place.”