The first years of the 21st century have been marked by increased violence committed by radical Islamists against those who don’t share their ideology and refuse to bend to their demands. The great majority of their victims have been their own Muslim confreres who are regarded as insufficiently pure in their faith or in their commitment to jihad against the “infidels.” Christians are also targeted. “Convert or die!” is their demand. Those who refuse are left with few options. Either they flee their homelands, which they have occupied for generations and even centuries, or live under the constant threat of persecution or death.
A Chaldean Catholic priest, Fr. Ragheed Aziz Ganni served the community of Holy Spirit Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, Iraq. On June 3, 2007 (Trinity Sunday that year), Fr. Ganni was walking in front of the church just as he had finished presiding over the evening Divine Liturgy. He was accompanied by three subdeacons, Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed. They were soon confronted by a group of armed men. One of the men screamed at Fr. Ganni that the priest had been told to close the church. Why had he not done so? Fr. Ganni replied, “How can I close the house of God?” At that, the armed men demanded that Fr. Ganni and his companions convert to Islam. When they refused, they were immediately shot and killed.
Fr. Ganni and his companions did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives in witness to their faith in Christ. Here in the U. S. we too much take for granted our freedoms and the safety in which we practice our faith. Our disputes over things like Communion in the hand v. Communion on the tongue, whether we should be praying in Latin or English, our frustration over having to wear masks to Mass, and the decision of so many even to neglect their obligation to assist at Mass on every Sunday because they do not want to feel “obliged” to do anything for the faith – all of these pale in comparison to the genuine struggles and threats to life faced daily by our confreres in other parts of the world. True discrimination, the loss of livelihoods, the kidnapping and forced marriages or rapes of women and girls, imprisonment, and even death are daily threats these Christians endure. Their witness ought to inspire in us a deeper devotion to Christ and His Church, as well as our prayers and the deployment of our resources to support these brave men and women who hold to the rock of faith in the face of severe trials. May God give them the strength to hold on, and give us the perspective to be grateful for our freedoms and the determination to never surrender them.
Fr. Ganni has been declared a Servant of God by the Church, the first step in the process of canonization.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.