Plea Raised at Iraqi Priest's Funeral Mass

All Christians Need to Work For Unity, Celebrant Says

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ROME, JUNE 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Iraq is disappearing, said the celebrant at a funeral Mass for slain Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni who was killed on Sunday in Mosul.



A Mass for the soul of the priest was held at his alma mater, the Pontifical Irish College.

In the homily of Thursday's Mass, Father Philip Najim, the procurator for the Chaldean Church to the Holy See, lamented the situation of Christians in Iraq.

"Closed churches, car bombs, forced conversions … in Iraq Christians are dying. The Church is disappearing under the strike of persecution, threats, violence on the part of extremists that won't leave any option but conversion or fleeing," Father Najim said.

Father Ganni and three deacons, Basman Yousef Daoud, Ghasan Bidawid and Wadid Hanna, were shot in what Benedict XVI called a "senseless killing." It is said that the Pope will discuss the plight of Iraqi Christians when he meets with U.S. President George Bush on Saturday.

Father Najim said: "Christians have become the scapegoat to be taken advantage of or eliminate. They can't profess their faith freely. Women are forced to wear the veil and crosses are torn from the churches."

Today in Iraq, he added, "the kidnapping of priests is more frequent each day. Christians are forced to pay taxes if they want to keep their homes and faith.

"The only alternative is to renounce one's own roots, leave one's country, intensifying the emigration wave."

Living martyrs

According to Father Najim, the slain priest "is a martyr of the Chaldean Church that suffers and has shed its blood in what Benedict XVI calls the Church of the living martyrs."

"His martyrdom should be a new dawn for the life and peace of Iraq, giving room to Christian hope," he said. "We need the Holy See to encourage the Church in Iraq and all Christians to unity.

"May Father Ganni's sacrifice be an injection of vitality for his community, his Church in Iraq, and for the universal Church."

Civil and Church leaders attended the funeral for the 34-year-old priest, who was ordained in 2001.

Cardinal Ignace Moussa Daoud, prefect for Congregation of Eastern Churches; Cardinal Desmond Connell, retired archbishop of Dublin; and Archbishop Jules Mikhael Al-Jamil, procurator of the patriarchate of the Syrians of Antioch to the Holy See, were among those who attended.

The ambassador to the Holy See from Iraq, Albert Yelda; from Ireland, Philip McDonagh; from the United Kingdom, Francis Campbell; and two representatives from the Untied States were also at the Mass.