One year after the murders of Father Ragheed Ganni and Deacons Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wahid Hanna, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk has said, “We need peace and reconciliation. That’s what we hope will come from this sacrifice.”
In comments to Vatican Radio, the archbishop said he was close friends with Father Ragheed, who was his student in Mosul. He said the other companions that were killed as well as the Archbishop of Mosul (who was kidnapped and killed earlier this year) “give us great hope and comfort. They died a martyr’s death because for us that’s what they were.”
He said that while there are “many dangers and problems” in Iraq, “we also have much hope in the Lord.”
Speaking about the ongoing exodus of Christians from Iraq, Archbishop Sako said the Church in Iraq and its neighboring countries needs to develop a ministry to “help Christians and their families return.”
He pointed to the northern cities of Iraq as places where Christians can find greater security and employment opportunities. The diminishing number of Christians “is a great loss for us,” he said, “and also for Muslims, because of our openness and our moral and Christian testimony.”
Archbishop Sako renewed his “heartfelt” plea that Christians in Iraq not be forgotten and stressed that the Church and the government have a duty to help minorities to stay in the country and to protect their religious, ethnic, cultural and social patrimony. All of this is a great treasure.”
Church of martyrs
Auxiliary Bishop Shelmon Warduni of Baghdad told the SIR news agency that there was hope that the murders committed a year ago by Muslim extremists would be the last, “but that has not been the case. We had others like Archbishop Rahho, who celebrated at the funeral of Father Ganni. Less than a year later he suffered the same fate. We also remember all the other priests and faithful who lost their lives violently,” he said.
“The Catholic Church in Iraq is becoming a Church of martyrs, but we should not lose hope. Their blood can bring fruits of peace and security for all of Iraq. The example of these martyrs should strengthen our faith. For Iraq, but also for the rest of the countries in the region, the exodus of Christians is a disaster,” Bishop Warduni said.
He noted that there has been some slight improvement in the situation, with some Christian families returning. Even though the seminary and the Church of San Giacomo were recently ransacked, “hope still sustains us,” he said.
Father Ragheed Ganni and Deacons Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wahid Hanna were killed on June 3, 2007, after celebrating Mass. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped on February 29 of this year and found dead on March 13.