Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Iraqi priest’s calling born in Mosul, inspired by the example of Christian martyrs Nabil Bakos is a new Chaldean priest, ordained in late November in Erbil, northern Iraq. 

His vocation was born in childhood, which renewed itself heeding the words, pronounced in a homily, of Mgr Rahho, archbishop of Mosul, who died at the hands of fundamentalist kidnappers. 
Although his youth was spent in a mostly Muslim social environment, this did not prevent him from participating in the activities of the Catholic Church, especially in pastoral outreach “because our people need individuals” to believe in and to rely upon.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that the faithful and the Iraqi community are often victims of persecution and burdened by suffering and in need of pastors “to pray for them and with them.”     

According to Fr Rayan, it is important “to show people the importance of solidarity as an effective act”. The latter is the point of reference “for every action in our life” and a lesson to show to “the entire world.” Such a criterion, he added, must also drive “our work for refugees” from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. These people who lost everything are preparing to spent their third Christmas far away from their homes and possessions; for this reason, they “need all our support to rebuild their lives and houses. These are people who lost everything”. 

Fr Rayan was born on 30 January 1986 in Mosul. When he finished his studies in 2007, he entered the seminary in Ankawa, Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. He graduated in Theology and Philosophy from Baghdad’s Pontifical Babel College.  He speaks Arabic, Chaldean, and English and is currently assistant pastor at the St George Parish in the Iraqi capital.

He received his priestly ordination together with another new priest directly from the hands of the Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako, at a ceremony that took place on 25 November in Erbil. The rite was celebrated by Mgr Bashar Warda, Archbishop of Erbil, and Mgr Jacques Ishaq, from the diocese of Baghdad, along with many priests, nuns and worshippers.

During the homily, Patriarch Sako noted that priests must “serve” the community and that his message “is the message of Christ”. Priests must be “witnesses of openness and hope” and must be ready to operate “for the good of everyone”.

“I heard God’s calling many times during my childhood,” the new priest told AsiaNews. “Later, growing up, I thought during my youth that the calling was just a wish, without a real vocation as its basis”. Yet, he continued to attend the “church of the archbishop of Mosul”, Mgr Paul Faraj Rahho, who died in March 2008 in captivity. He still remembers the words the prelate pronounced in a homily: “Dear boys, if you feel the desire to become priests, do not hesitate”.

At that moment, he realised that “God was calling me, again”. Hence, “I decided to talk to him (Mgr Rahho),” Fr Rayan noted, “and he was happy to advise me and give me all his support.”

Even though he grew up in a “mostly Muslim” environment, Fr Rayan went on to say, “I always tried to stay close to my church, participating in all the activities it offered. From Sunday Mass to catechism, I was able to keep alive the connection to my faith without being influenced by the surrounding environment,” which was increasingly hostile and difficult for Christians.

Indeed, Mosul is one of the Iraqi cities where hostility and anti-Christian violence has been observed for some time, a situation that culminated with the murders of Bishop Rahho and Fr Ragheed Ganni in the second half of the 2000s.    

Despite difficulties, for the new priest, his memories of Mosul and of the childhood he spent in this city remain alive. “About my childhood and youth I remember my church, my parish, my friends from catechism with whom I shared the Sacrament of the First Communion”. He also remembers the walk to school and “playing with friends, both at school and at home, when we did homework together”.

In the future, Fr Rayan plans to work in pastoral outreach “with the aim of helping the needy”, pushing them to “share problems and difficulties, anxieties and suffering” so that they can feel “the presence and closeness of the Church”.

For a future of peace and coexistence, he wants to approach children first, “trying to teach them love without discrimination, forgiveness, and that we are all citizens of one country called Iraq [. . .] brothers of a single nation for which we must work to build a better future”.

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