Phoenix is more than 7,000 miles from Mosul. And yet as I sit and pray here in sunny Arizona, my heart turns to the beleaguered city in Iraq.
Before the American invasion in 2003, Mosul was home to 35,000 Christians, mostly Chaldean Catholics. Militants captured Mosul June 11, causing nearly all the Christians to flee. For the first time in 1,600 years, there are no priests and no Masses in Mosul.
Back in 2007, I reported on the martyrdom of Fr. Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest gunned down in that city after he refused to close his parish.
Then in 2010, I wrote about a massacre at a Catholic cathedral in Baghdad that took the lives of two priests and dozens of men, women and children. It was a life-changing story that caused me to re-evaluate my own commitment to the Catholic faith. Was I living it authentically? Was I willing to die for it?
Since then, I’ve become friends with many local Chaldean Catholics. They tell me that Holy Spirit Church — Fr. Ganni’s parish — was recently looted by terrorists. “Even the pews were ripped out,” one man told me somberly.
Many Roman Catholics have never heard of our Chaldean brothers and sisters. And as Christians all over the Middle East are slowly being driven from their homeland, I wonder: Will anyone defend them?
Conflict and compassion collide
One Roman Catholic priest well acquainted with the dire circumstances of Christians in the embattled region is Fr. Joseph Terra, FSSP. Last month, about the time militants stormed Mosul, Fr. Terra himself was the victim of a terrible attack that left him critically wounded. The story made national headlines, and The Catholic Sun was there to report on it.
What most people don’t know is that it was Fr. Terra who reached out to the local Chaldean Catholic community in 2010. He attended a prayer vigil at their church in the wake of the cathedral massacre.
I remember interviewing Fr. Terra back in 2009. He gave me an in-depth explanation of how Christendom was spared from the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1751. Pope Pius V and the faithful prayed the rosary fervently, and though vastly outnumbered, the Christian forces were victorious.
Fr. Terra understood the danger Christians in the Middle East face every day. He understood that the rest of the world seems to have forgotten these ancient Christian communities.
What he may not know is that while the local Chaldeans gathered to pray the rosary for peace in their homeland June 13, they were also praying ardently for his recovery and for the repose of the soul of Fr. Kenneth Walker, FSSP. The 28-year-old priest perished in the June 11 attack on Mater Misericordiae Mission in downtown Phoenix.
I had just come from the rosary held at Mater Misericordiae June 13, and as I knelt there inside Mar Abraham, I listened to the faithful praying the Hail Mary in Aramaic, the language of their liturgy, the language that Jesus Christ spoke.
Our Lady’s mantle
Mosul and Phoenix? They’re not really so far apart. Our Lady, Queen of Peace, unites hearts and the faith endures, in spite of attacks, in defiance of persecution.
Mary’s children, the children of the rosary, implore her intercession in every land, in every language, at every hour. In the face of tragedy, they turn to the Mother of God and ask her to wrap them in her mantle of grace and lead them to her Son, Jesus.
What would Fr. Terra advise us to do in response to the violence committed against him, against the innocent? I have a feeling that the priest who was regularly seen praying the rosary outside abortion clinics and who showed such empathy for the Chaldeans would tell us to remain steadfast in faith, to forgive our persecutors, and to pray the rosary for peace. Perhaps if more of us responded in this way to injustice, we would know peace here in this valley of tears.