A martyred former student of the Irish College has been hailed as a modern example of Christian faith in action, and an important reminder of how religious freedom remains threatened across the world.
Former President Mary McAleese has described Fr Ragheed Ganni [pictured], who was murdered along with three sub-deacons by Islamist militants in Iraq in 2007, as a reminder of “the cost of freedom and the price of service to others”.
Fr Ganni is set to be one of the first formally-recognised martyr of modern Iraq, with his cause, along with those of his three companions and that of Sr Cecilia Moshi Hanna, being presented in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints next week.
Mrs McAleese, who befriended Fr Ganni after originally meeting him when he was volunteering at Lough Derg as a young seminarian, said when he finished his studies in Rome she asked whether he would contemplate returning to Ireland only to be told he was determined to serve the Christian community in his troubled homeland.
“I was one of a number of people, good friends of his, who tried to persuade him not to do that,” she said. “He knew better than any of us how dangerous it was, but he was quite determined that his vocation and his mission lay among his own people, his own family, in bringing them pastoral help and comfort.
“So with absolute full knowledge of the likelihood that he would face death, he went back,” she told The Irish Catholic.
Mrs McAleese said that his life reminds her in many ways of Ireland during the Penal Times. “In fact, I said that to him the day he told me he was going back to Mosul, I said ‘You know you could be heading to the same destination as Oliver Plunkett’,” she said, noting how the pectoral cross of the martyred Archbishop of Armagh is held in the Irish College.
Describing him as “undaunted” without being naïve, Mrs McAleese said he was marked by a “great authenticity”.
“His life was to be a life of service, and that’s where he chose to serve among the people among whom he’d grown up in his Faith, and that’s where he died in fulfilment of his mission,” she said.
Mrs McAleese said that the honouring of Fr Ganni through the canonisation process would send “a very important message to a generation that perhaps had grown complacent that the world was always going to keep walking in a straight line towards all these fundamental freedoms, and it hasn’t done that.
“As you know, we’ve taken quite a few steps backwards in recent years and someone like Ragheed reminds us of the cost of freedom and the price of service to others,” she added.
Fr Dick Mohan, who was Prior at Lough Derg when Fr Ganni worked on the island, told The Irish Catholic he was “delighted to hear that news because Ragheed was a very special person, and many, many people who were privileged to meet him in Lough Derg and to hear him and become friends with him will be happy to know that his goodness has been recognised.”