Ragheed Aziz Ganni was born on January 20th, 1972 in Mosul Iraq. He completed a degree in civil engineering at Mosul University and fulfilled his military service obligations in Saddam Hussein's government in 1996. Shortly after, he would enter the seminary in Iraq and was granted a scholarship from the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need to study at the University of Saint Aquinas in Rome. He was formally ordained a priest in Rome on October 13th, 2001 and completed a licentiate in ecumenical theology in 2003.
During his time studying in Rome, he became fluent in Aramiac, Arabic, Italian, French and English, and at one point served as a correspondent for the international agency Asia News of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. Father Ragheed became strong friends with Irish Seminarians and spent several summers in Lough Derg. The Irish hierarchy had prepared to offer him at Parish at the time of his ordination, but he believed his place was to be back home, in Iraq with his community. He frequently played soccer at the college, and an annual showcase tournament played in May each year is now named the "Ragheed Cup" in his memory.
When the Iraq war began, he expressed grave concern for Christians living in Iraq, fearing the vacuum of power that could be filled by extremists if Saddam were ousted. Shortly after Saddam's death, he returned to Mosul, the epicenter of the rising insurgency, to protect his flock. The church he administrated the sacraments quickly became a target and was attacked multiple times. In 2005, he would write to Father Robert Christian (his former theology professor in Rome):
The situation here is worse than hell, and my church has been attacked a few more times since we last met. Last week two guards in it were wounded after an attack. We shall meet in the near future and have a chat about all these events. God bless, Ragheed.
He would also email in 2006:
The situation, as you can follow in the news, is dreadful. Christians are suffering twice, first because of the situation, second because of their religion. The Pope's speech lit a fire in the city. A Syrian Orthodox priest was beheaded; my parish church was attacked five times. I was threatened even before that priest was kidnapped, but I was very careful about moving around. I postponed my vacation twice because I couldn't leave the city under such conditions. I was planning to travel to Europe on Sept. 18, but I moved it to Oct. 4. Then I had to change the date to Nov. 1. Ramadan was a disaster for us in Mosul. Hundreds of Christian families fled outside the city including my family and uncles. About 30 people left all their properties and fled, having been threatened. It is not easy but the grace of the Lord gives support and strength. We face death every day here.
June 3, 2007
On June 3rd, Father Ragheed, sub deacons Basman Yousef Daud (his cousin), Wahid Hanna Isho (and his wife), and Gassan Isam Bidawed performed the Sunday evening Holy Qurbana (Mass) at Mosul's Holy Spirit Chaldean Church. As the car began to move away from the Church, four gunmen stepped into the street and stopped the vehicle. Bayan Adam Balah (Subdeacon Waheed Hanna Isho's wife) described the attack:
“We were stopped by four gunmen with masked black suits and Kalashnikov rifles, Two of them pointed the guns at Father Ragheed’s car, and the other two pointed their guns at our car. They shouted at Father Ragheed to get out of the car. Father Ragheed asked them who they were, they replied that they were Ansar Al-suna. I heard them clearly.”
“‘How many times did we tell you to close the church? How many times did we tell you not to pray in the church?’ the masked men shouted,”
Father Ragheed replied simply
"How can I close the house of God?"
A tense exchange followed, with the gunmen demanding an immediate conversion to Islam. Seconds later, the gunmen opened fire killing both Father Ragheed and Subdeacon Yousef. The other two men rushed to help and were shot and killed as well. The gunmen ordered Bayan to flee, and set explosive charges in the car with the four bodies to keep the bodies abandoned. It would take several hours for bomb squad units were able to defuse the bomb and recover all four bodies. Bayan now lives as a refugee in Australia.
His funeral would be held on June 4th, 2007 and was attended by thousands in Karemlash Iraq. Only 9 months after the attack and martyrdom, the Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and murdered by extremists.
Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni's cause has officially been opened at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and he has been declared as a "Servant of God" killed in hatred of the faith by the Vatican.
You can help support Catholics and Christians in Iraq by donating to
Catholic Relief Services - www.crs.org
Aid to the Church in Need www.churchinneed.org
Catholic Near East Welfare Association www.cnewa.org