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STEPHEN HOUGHHOW I ESCAPED DEATH TO COMPOSE A NEW SETTING OF THE MASS PAGE 7

IS ATHEISM A POISON? DAVID QUINN TAKES ON CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS Page 10

No. 6305

www.catholicherald.co.uk

June 8, 2007 £1 (Republic of Ireland €1.50)

Iraqi priest and three deacons are gunned down after Mass

BYMARKGREAVES

ACHALDEANCATHOLIC priest and three deacons were shot dead in Iraq last Sunday immediately after celebrating Mass. The four men –Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni, Basman Yousef Daoud, Wadid Hanna and Ghasan Bida Wid –were driving away from the Church of the Holy Spirit in the northern city of Mosul when militants blocked the road and forced them to stop the car. The group ordered the wife of one of the deacons to run away before dragging the men out of the car and shooting them. They then placed explosives around the scene so that no one would dare to remove the bodies –which were left in the street until a police bomb-squad arrived late in the evening. Pope Benedict XVI, in a telegram sent to Chaldean bishops the day after the shooting, paid tribute to the “costly sacrifice” of the men killed and prayed that their deaths would inspire the Iraqi people to reject violence. The Pontiff is planning to discuss the persecution of Christians in Iraq when he meets President George W Bush tomorrow. According to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, the Pontiff hoped to talk about the Iraq invasion and the “dramatic situation of Christians in Iraq, which has been deteriorating”. In his Easter message the Pope said that “nothing positive” was coming out of Iraq, a country which was being “torn apart by slaughter as the civil population flees”. Last weekend at least 62 Iraqis and 14 American soldiers died from shootings and bomb attacks around the country. Extremists had already threatened Fr Ganni and bombed the

Church of the Holy Spirit several times. The three deacons had accompanied Fr Ganni hoping to protect him. Fr Ganni, 35, returned to his native Iraq in November 2003 after spending seven years studying in Rome. When he visited Italy for the Eucharistic Congress in Bari two years ago he told a gathering of priests and laymen that terrorism would never defeat Iraq’s Christians. In a powerful speech during the congress’s vigil Fr Ganni said that Chaldean Catholics would continue to go to Mass “even among the ruins”. He spoke of several bombings that had targeted Christians in Mosul, including one which severely wounded his 19-year-old sister. “The terrorists might think they can kill our bodies or our spirit by frightening us, but, on Sundays, churches are always full. They may try to take our life, but the Eucharist gives it back,” he said. Fr Ganni, who was fluent in Arabic as well as Italian, French and English, explained that persecution had done nothing to diminish his parishioners’ devotion to the Eucharist. “Mosul Christians are not theologians; some are even illiterate. And yet inside of us for many generations one truth has become embedded: without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live. “This is true today when evil has reached the point of destroying churches and killing Christians, something unheard of in Iraq till now,” he said. “There are days when I feel frail and full of fear. But when, holding the Eucharist, I say ‘Behold the Lamb of God Behold, who takes away the sin of the world’, I feel His strength in me. “When I hold the Host in my

hands, it is really He who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in His boundless love.” Fr Ragheed concluded his homily by saying that people who lived comfortably often did not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist. He added that those who were surrounded by violence realised that it was the Eucharist “that gives us life. And this allows us to resist and hope,” he said. The spiritual leader of Chaldean Catholics, Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, called the shooting “a most horrible act against God”. The Chaldean bishops, gathered together for their Synod, again urged “Iraqi leaders and international organisations” to act against the persecution of the country’s Christian minority. Christians make up only four per cent of Iraq’s total population but have lived there since the first century. The majority are Chaldean Catholics who speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, and are in unity with Rome. It is estimated that half of Iraq’s 1.2 million Christian population has fled the country since the USled invasion in 2003. The exodus to neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan and Turkey has left behind closed parishes, convents and seminaries. Over the weekend Catholic news agency AsiaNews reported that a convent in Baghdad had been sacked and occupied by militants. The Chaldean Sisters of the Sacred Heart convent had been empty during the attack –all but two of the nuns had already left the city. At least six Chaldean priests have been kidnapped over the past few years, and in 2006 a SyroOrthodox priest was killed.

Editorial comment: Page 11

Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni was threatened several times, but continued to celebrate Mass until his death

NEWS Cardinal OʼBrien

His Day for Life homily in full p3

FEATURES

Sarah Johnson Modern church music that works p9

CINEMA

Laurence Green

reports from the Cannes film festival p12

NEWS

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Cardinal brandishes ‘third secret of Fatima’ letter on Italian television

BYMARKGREAVES

THELETTER that Sister Lucia wrote in 1944 explaining the third secret of Fatima was shown on Italian state television last week. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, appeared with the letter on Italy’s most popular talk show Porta a Porta (“Door to Door”). The cardinal showed both an Italian translation and the letter itself, and read the phrase written on the outside of the original white envelope. It said: “Through the express order of Our Lady, this envelope can be opened in 1960.” The Vatican did not reveal the contents of the letter until 40 years later, in 2000, prompting speculation that the third secret would signal

the coming of the Apocalypse or some global catastrophe. Instead, the secret referred to the attempted assassination of John Paul II in May 13, 1981, by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca. But conspiracy theorists maintain that the Vatican had suppressed the true meaning of the third secret. As the theories multiplied Cardinal Bertone issued a stern attack on the “most absurd theses” which demonstrated total ignorance of the “spiritual purpose of prophecy”. The secrets are based on visions of the Virgin Mary revealed to three peasant children –Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia –in fields near the town of Fatima in Portugal in 1917. The first secret was a vision of hell, according to

Sister Lucia

Lucia’s 1942 memoir. The second concerned Mary’s instructions on how to bring the world back to the Church. After John Paul II recovered from being shot by Agca he credited the Virgin Mary with saving his life. He said “a motherly hand which guided the bullet’s path” allowed him to stop “at the threshold of death”.

Agca reportedly muttered about Fatima throughout his trial in an Italian court. The bullet that almost killed John Paul II has actually been set in the crown of the Marian statue at the Shrine of Fatima. Last month 400,000 pilgrims gathered at the shrine to mark the 90th anniversary of the first of the apparitions and prayed for the safe return of missing child Madeleine McCann. The shrine was brought to the world’s attention again almost two weeks later when the parents of Madeleine attended Mass there. The couple were inundated with gifts of religious icons and flowers as the 1,000-strong congregation left the chapel and –ignoring the rule of silence – broke into spontaneous applause.

The Herald launches new e-paper

BYANDYLEISINGER

On June 15 The Catholic Herald will launch its new e-paper, an online facsimile of

the weekly printed version along with archives going back to February 2003. Readers will be entitled to six weeks of free browsing to test the library before having to subscribe. The Herald has teamed up with media experts Exact Editions to bring online subscribers a super-fast word search facility, ideal for referencing, which will be available on the home page of our website.

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