Three subdeacons accompanied Fr. Ragheed Aziz Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest ministering to the faithful in Mosul, Iraq, to the Sunday evening Mass at Holy Spirit Chaldean Church in Mosul for Trinity Sunday in 2007.
The subdeacons, Basman Yousef Daud (Fr. Ganni's cousin), Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Isam Bidawed, went with Fr. Ganni since he had been receiving death threats from some demanding he close down the church.
After the Mass, Fr. Ganni, the three subdeacons and Isho's wife were confronted by four Islamists wearing masked black suits and armed with Kalashnikov rifles.
One of the armed men yelled at Fr. Ganni, asking why the priest did not heed the warnings to shut down the church. Father Ganni then said the last words he would utter this side of the veil: "How can I close the house of God?"
The armed men demanded that Fr. Ganni and the three subdeacons convert to Islam. The four Chaldean Catholics refused and were shot dead in cold blood.
The event was a clear case of murder in odium fidei (in hatred of the Faith), rendering those shot Christian martyrs and establishing a cause for their canonizations, a cause for which the Vatican has given a green light.
Father Ganni studied at the Angelicum in Rome, Italy; our time there overlapped.
I had visited the tombs of many saints and martyrs when living and studying in Rome, but I did not realize at the time that I had been in the presence of one soon to make that ultimate sacrifice.
I was not close to Ragheed Ganni, but I do recall seeing him in some of my classes and, if memory serves correctly, asking him once about a phrase in Aramaic.
My friend, John Thomas, remembers speaking with him. John once asked him if he feared for his safety upon returning to Iraq. Father Ganni responded that his duty as a priest was to the faithful there who depended on him, and as long as they were there, he had to be there with them.
Southeast Michigan has somewhere around 113,000 Chaldeans, being the largest Chaldean diaspora community outside of Iraq; thus, here in Detroit, I have also met Chaldean Catholics who knew or knew of Fr. Ganni prior to his martyrdom ― and they all know about his martyrdom.
The owner of the convenience store near work is a Chaldean Catholic. I spoke with him today while buying something for lunch. I showed him a picture of Fr. Ganni and he recognized him immediately, recalling attending some of his Masses back in Mosul.
Thinking about his well-deserved cause for canonization, I cannot help but notice a stark contrast between Fr. Ganni and his companions' selfless sacrifice for the love of God and neighbor and the various bishops and clergy who exploit God and neighbor for the love of self.
Father Ganni accepted death rather than close the house of God.
Compare that to so many bishops who are more than willing to close the houses of God in their dioceses to make a few bucks for legal settlements, nice cars, nice houses, nice banquets and whatever nice moth-ridden rags they prefer to the eternal things God has prepared for those who love Him.
Father Ganni lived the life of supernatural faith and was instrumental in helping others, both here and in eternity; bad bishops and bad clergy lack supernatural faith and are instrumental in destroying others, both here and in eternity.
It is no wonder St. John Chrysostom thought that most bishops would perish in the life to come.
In Homily Three on the Acts of the Apostles, St. John Chrysostom wrote:
I do not think there are many among bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish: and the reason is, that it is an affair that requires a great mind. … The loss of one soul carries with it a penalty which no language can represent. For if the salvation of that soul was of such value, that the Son of God became man, and suffered so much, think how sore a punishment must the losing of it bring! And if in this present life he who is cause of another's destruction is worthy of death, much more in the next world. Do not tell me, that the presbyter is in fault, or the deacon. The guilt of all these comes perforce upon the head of those who ordained them.
We live in an age of great saints and martyrs as well as great sinners and tyrants.
The faithful are suffering terrible persecution in places such as China and Eritrea, while so many of our bishops and clergy here at home play fast and loose with the well-being of others entrusted to their care, fast and loose with money they have not earned, fast and loose with time, words and, worst of all, eternal salvation.
What a contrast.
Father Ragheed Ganni, ora pro nobis.