Homily for the Memorial Mass of Ragheed Ganni on the 4th anniversary of his death.
I wish to add to the rector’s welcome my own acknowledgement of the presence of Fr. Ragheed Ganni’s mother and father at this Mass. It is for all of us an honor, of which we are not worthy, to be in the presence of parents who raised a saintly son.
Nineveh, the city so great that—we are told in the book of the prophet Jonah—it took three days to cross, is a city that was mentioned already in the book of Genesis—a very ancient city, a city whose mass conversion challenges to this day our notion of effective, Spirit-filled preaching even by reluctant prophets.
This Nineveh which is an icon of our tradition, is just across the Tigris River from modern-day Mossul, as close as Minneapolis and St. Paul, Boston and Cambridge, or Buda and Pest.
The city of Mossul, where Father Ragheed Ganni met his execution-style death on Trinity Sunday four years ago, is a city steeped in Jewish and Christian tradition, a city where they are—or were—in every sense of the word, at home.
Ragheed, who came to the Angelicum and resided at the Irish College after having done his obligatory military service under Saddam Hussein, adjusted his sense of home during his years of priestly formation. For during those years, it became clear that the home he and his Chaldaean Christian community had long known in Iraq, and in Mossul in particular, would not be the home to which he would return.
Ragheed traveled extensively during his breaks from school—to Sweden, Australia, the United States, Ireland—often finding himself the first face people had seen of a devout, intelligent, determined Christian from a country whose inhabitants were often unfairly villainized along with their leader.
Along his travels, he developed a sense of the Church as home, a home with many rooms, but truly the Domus Domini. And after his ordination and the termination of his licentiate studies here, he realized that his mission would be a heroic one, to be lived with the heroic charity of a saint: the mission of helping his parishioners who were losing their homes and their homeland to realize that even the Church on earth is not a lasting home: our lasting home is heaven.
Ormai considerati non più a casa nella loro patria; ormai vittime di aggressioni di ogni tipo (e ricordiamo che la sorella del p. Ragheed ha perso una gamba quando la sua chiesa è stata bombardata), i parrocchiani del p. Ragheed cominciavano il loro esodo—alcuni verso Kurdistan, altri verso la Siria, la Giordania, o il Libano. Non pensavano di abbandonare la loro fede, la loro identità, la loro “casa” nel Signore. P. Ragheed doveva servire coloro che non potevano scappare, come testimone di speranza, mentre formava nella fede coloro che volevano e potevano emigrare. Per lui, lasciare Iraq, e il popolo a lui confidato, era impensabile. Ma per lui, restare in Iraq era anche intollerabile.
Intollerabile per le forze che vedevano non soltanto nei cristiani, ma in lui, in particolare, un simbolo dell’ “altro”, del nemico, del “non-appartenente.” Pur facendo del tutto per eludere i suoi persegutori, alla fine, proprio perché era prete cattolico, è stato massacrato insieme a dei sottodiaconi. Sicuramente, coloro che volevano la sua morte volevano togliere la speranza dalla comunità cristiana irachena.
Avete ricevuto dei santini del p. Ragheed. Li ho ricevuto dall’America, da un seminarista della chiesa chaldea. Da testimonianza al fatto che il martirio di Ragheed può scorraggiare la comunità, ma non la distruggerà. Anzi, come è sempre vero del sangue dei martiri, sarà rafforzata, perché ci fa ricordare che la nostra vera casa, la nostra vera pace, è nel Regno dei cieli.
If anyone ever saw aggression in Ragheed’s character, it was probably only on the playing field—suitably enough, there is now a soccer (football) match that bears his name.
But anyone who did not see, under his gentleness, a determined fidelity to the Lord whom he loved and knew well, was not looking closely. Ragheed always knew where he wanted to go. He just did not figure he would get there so soon. But he knew that he was not in charge of the timetable.
My grandfather used to say, “The difficult we do with ease; the impossible takes a little longer.” To receive pictures from Ragheed of his church building in ruins, to hear of his parishioners being strafed upon leaving Mass—these were the difficult matters he handled with an ease that comes from knowing that one is not abandoned by God. The impossible things? Here, he may have proven my grandfather wrong. The instantaneous act of shedding his blood for the faith has done more to help Chaldaean Christians cohere than any amount of earthly ministry, and I dare say that now, with obvious signs in Rome in the past week of a groundswell of public veneration for Ragheed, he will long continue in a more exalted fashion what he began in his customary humility.
Il papa, il presidente d’Irlanda e la comunità del Pontificio Collegio Irlandese, la comunità dell’Angelicum, e tanti altri che l’hanno conosciuto, vedono in Ragheed un simbolo del eroismo richiesto oggi da cristiani in molte parti del mondo dove sono perseguitati semplicemente perché professano la fede cristiana. La loro perseveranza è per noi dell’Occidente un esempio di cui abbiamo tanto bisogno. Oggi, siamo riuniti attorno all’altare, in questa Domus Domini, per pregare per una sempre maggiore solidarietà tra cristiani, e un maggiore orientamento escatologico di ogni singolo cristiano. Privatamente possiamo pregare pure Ragheed. E forse un giorno sarà possibile celebrare la “sua” Messa nella Chiesa.
Thank you all for being here this afternoon. May the example of Ragheed inspire each of us to limit our aggression to the playing fields, to minister with determination, to study and pray in order to delight in the Lord, our Beloved, and to remember always where our true home is.
Fr. Robert Christian, O.P.