By Anthony Barich
Martyred Iraqi Catholic priest Father Ragheed Ganni has been named in the top 10 People of the Year 2007 by Inside the Vatican magazine.
Inside the Vatican, a monthly publication produced by scholars and journalists with decades of experience reporting from Rome to “think with the Church” but is not an official Church publication, named Fr Ganni at Number Seven, quoting Pope Benedict XVI who said he was a “costly sacrifice” for the Chaldean Church.
Fr Ganni, a Chaldean priest, was mourned by priests in Perth, including City Beach parish priest Fr Don Kettle who studied with him in Rome.
Fr Ganni was shot and killed with three deacons after celebrating Mass in Mosul, Iraq after being asked if he would renounce his faith.
His death was felt around the world, and was noted, the magazine said, by Pope Benedict XVI, the Irish president Mary McAleese and was also noted in hundreds of newspaper columns, magazine articles and websites; protest demonstrations were held in the United States, Sweden, France, Germany and Rome.
War broke out in Iraq the year he was finishing his licentiate degree in ecumenical theology from the Angelicum in Rome and he was ordained a priest in Rome in 2001.
Fr Ganni visited his good friend from the Pontifical Irish College, Fr Kettle, in Perth in 2003 for the sumomer.
Fr Kettle told The Record shortly after Fr Ganni died that they spoke about the Chaldean priest returning to Iraq and “what that might mean”.
“Fr Ragheed was very loyal to his Bishop and to the people of his diocese (in Iraq),” Fr Kettle said.
“He was aware of the dangers of returning to Iraq where Christians had been targeted by Muslim extremists. Knowing the risk to his life, he gladly accepted the challenge of administering the sacraments to his people.
“Fr Ragheed was like a brother to me, and my heard is sad because the world is a much lonelier place without him.”
Fr Ganni was opposed to the US-led Coalition’s invasion of Iraq, one of the reasons being that he knew it would mean Iraqi Christians would be targeted and persecuted by Islamic fanatics who associated Christianity with forces from the West.
His prophecy would be carried out on himself. In 2004 he was accosted by armed Islamic militants who took him from the residence of the Archbishop of Mosul and made him watch as they set off bombs they had placed within the building, according to Inside the Vatican.
Fr Ganni also received death threats and his Holy Spirit Church was the scene of several attacks. Less than a month before he was killed, the church had suffered damage from bombing, Inside the Vatican said.
After his death, Fr Philip Najim, the procurator of the Chaldean Church to the Holy See, declared Fr Ganni a martyr of the Chaldean Church, which is “suffering and has shed its blood in what Benedict XVI calls the Church of the Living Martyrs”, Inside the Vatican said.
It added that Fr Najim said that Fr Ganni’s martyrdom “should be a dawn for the life and peace of Iraq, giving room to Christian hope. We need the Holy See to encourage the Church in Iraq and all Christians to unity”.
Inside the Vatican’s top 10 list was headed by Francis Beckwith, an American professor of philosophy converted back to the Roman Catholic church after spending years in the evangelical protestant church.
Others in the top 10 were the Marquise Immacolata Solaro del Borgo, known for charity and friendliness with the East, and helped to create a “climate of respect and trust between Russians and Westerners”.
Also named were Sir Martin Gilbert, British historian who is known for his “pursuit of truth”, has publicly defended the Church’s position on a number of issues; Brian Boyle, hit by a truck three years ago, was told he would not walk again, but instead now runs marathons, attributed his success to the providence of God rather than himself; Fr Bernardo Cervellera, the leading expert on China who runs Asia News Service; Aung San Sw Kyi, advocate of democracy of Burma confined to house arrest; Alveda King, niece of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, who has made it her mission to protect civil rights of unborn and is one of the leading pro-life voices in America and the world.
Sr Eugenia Bonetti, leader of large international movement to help women who have fallen into slavery, was also named, along with Fr Federico Lombardi, Pope Benedict XVI’s spokesman in charge of Vatican Radio and TV centre. He has a big role in “shaping the world’s perception of what the Holy Father tells it”.