May Fr Ragheed's Sacrifice Help Iraq's Church Find 'Renewed Unity'

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AsiaNews
June 5, 2007
 
Karamles -- Despite high levels of tension over 2 thousand people gathered in Karamles -- northern Iraq -- yesterday for the funerals of Fr. Raghed Ganni, and the three sub-deacons - Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, Gassan Isam Bidawed -- murdered on June 3rd as they returned from Mass in Mosul. The Archbishop of

Kirkuk, Msgr. Sako, speaks with AsiaNews about at the solemn ceremony.
The funeral mass was celebrated by the Chaldean bishop of Mosul, Msgr. Faraj Rahho. Maximum security measures were put in place given the presence of the leaders of the Church in Iraq and the Diaspora. The Patriarchal Synod, gathered in al Qosh since June 1st last, had been focusing their discussions on the security of the Christians in the country. Yesterday, in the small village, home to Fr. Ragweed, those present included the Patriarch, Emmanuel III Delly, Msgr. Mikhael P. Maqdassi (Al-Qosh), Msgr. Ibrahim Ibrahim (Detroit), Msgr. Michael Kassarji (Lebanon), Msgr. Jibrail Kassab (Australia), Msgr. Sarhad Y. Jammo (San Diego), Msgr. Jacques Isaac (Baghdad), Msgr. Shleimun Warduni (Baghdad), Msgr. Louis Sako (Kirkuk). Numerous priests, women religious, monks and lay faithful participated in the ceremony inside and outside the Church; among them the Minister for Finance from the autonomous Kurdish region, Sarkis Aghajan and two orthodox bishops.

The wife of one of the three murdered sub-deacons, Gassan Isam Bidawed, gave witness to the brutal assassination. The woman was with the victims when their car was stopped, the aggressors made all five get out of the car and then, forcing her to distance herself, they shot the four Christian men in cold blood. At the end of the mass the Patriarch repeated his condemnation of what he described as "a horrible act against God and humanity" and appealed to the community to gather their strength in this most difficult of times. The photos of the funeral were published by the Arab website Ankawa.com. For the next three in Karamles and Mosul days masses will be offered for the repose of the souls of the victims in accordance with the Chaldean liturgy.

Now more than ever unity is needed

Yesterday the Pope expressed his condolences for the families of the deceased and his solidarity with all of Iraq's Christians. "The Pontiff's words give us great solace -- declared Msgr. Sako -- they give us the hope and the courage to stay on in our Homeland, to continue on our daily mission". "Now more than ever -- continues the prelate -- we need the Vatican to encourage the Church in Iraq and all Christians to remain united". According to the Archbishop, the sacrifice of Ragheed and the three sub-deacons "obliges us to be united, also at a political level, to save our people and to contribute to a return to peace in Iraq".

Mons. Sako tells that he received a delegation of local Muslims leaders in his residence who expressed their condolences and condemnation of Ragheed's death.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the assassination of the Christians. But fear is gripping Iraq's Catholics who are deeply concerned by the "excessive" coverage that local media are giving to the news. Anonymous sources in the capital say that "for example for over three days now Ishtar Tv has been speaking of Sunday's events". They explain; "We are afraid that this propaganda is aimed at the establishment of a "Christian ghetto" on the Niniveh plain, by groups who have interest in depicting this as the only solution for survival, pushing those Christians left in the country to leave Baghdad and Mosul towards Niniveh", on the borders with Kurdistan. On many occasions bishops and religious leaders have expressed alarm at this proposal for an autonomous region for the Christians in the North, which they consider to be both "dangerous" and against the very nature of the Church's mission.