Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tarcisius and Father Ragheed Ganni

Tarcisius was a young, perhaps teen-aged Christian, who lived in Rome during the 3rd century Valerian persecution. Apparently he was asked, or he volunteered himself, to take the Sunday Eucharist to imprisoned Christians. Perhaps it was thought a priest would be too obvious, but a young messenger boy would be allowed in.

Along the ancient Appian Way he encountered a group of other young people, maybe school mates, who questioned him about what he seemed to be concealing in his clothes. It's hard to know what happened next, but the account is that they assumed (rightly) that Tarcisius was hiding the Christian Mysteries, as the Eucharist was called, and they beat him to death when he would not reveal it to them.

The marble sculpture of Alexandre Falguiere c 1868, which is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, depicts Tarcisius in his dying, holding the Sacrament safely. The bullies have fled, as they tend, to do.

Tarcisius is often invoked as a patron for young children who are receiving their First Holy Communion. That's a lovely connection, but there is more. He is carrying the mystery of the Christians, which is not simply the Eucharistic Elements, but he is carrying goodness itself. And he carries that mystery of goodness in a menacing, bullying, dangerous, life threatening world. Only a few people are elected to take the Eucharist into the prisons and jails of the world, but we're all called, and not just the baptized, to carry goodness. And the life of Tarcisius says, "As you carry goodness, you can expect trouble."

This is a picture of Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni. On June 3, 2007 he, along with three sub-deacons, Basman Yousef Daoud, Wadid Hanna and Ghasan Bida Wid were murdered while leaving the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq after an evening Mass. When he was pulled from his car, he was pressed to the ground with his arms spread out. The leader of the militant group yelled at him, "I told you to close this church!" Father Ganni answered, "I cannot close the house of God." And he was shot dead.

The week before his death he text-ed a friend saying, "The situation here is worse than hell. We are on the verge of collapse." He was referring to the predicament of Christians living in Mosul under the threats of Islamic extremists who had in mind to exterminate all Christians throughout the country. The Chaldean Christian community is one of the oldest forms of Christianity in the world. In the months preceding Father Ganni's murder, his church of the Holy Spirit was bombed several times.

I'd like to nominate Father Ragheed and his sub-deacon companions as the Patron Saints of Goodness Carriers!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good. Catholics reference the four cardinal virtues from which the others flow: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Virtue grows through education, deliberate acts and perseverance in struggle. And if we truly desire to lived a virtuous life, we can trust God to give us the grace (the leg up) to make that transformation.

But many people learn best when they're given examples. Here are some examples of goodness, or invitations to lived-goodness, for our own time:

  • Cheating and stealing: "Everybody does it," but you don't. That's carrying goodness.
  • During and after her testimony in court during the Zimmerman trial, Rachel Jeantel was mocked and insulted all around the world via the media. Even the defense attorney's daughter got in on it. And you stood in solidarity with Rachel, who was testifying on behalf of her friend who was killed. That's carrying goodness.
  • Pope Pius XII said, "Never make a man choose between his Church and his country. He will almost always choose his country." And for you, the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5,6,7  and Matthew 25 take precedent in your life. That's carrying goodness.

  • Recently, Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, has spoken publicly after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of her son. She said, "I don't want to block the blessings from coming down because I've got hatred in my heart." To forgive, when seemingly everyone else is telling you how to get even - to forgive when you find yourself rehearsing the old wound-stories over and over again. That's carrying goodness.
  • To be really pro-life and not just anti-abortion: that every baby would be welcomed - yes, but also becoming non-violent, opposed to the  militarization of our planet, opposed to capital punishment, sensitive to the issues surrounding the life of the planet itself, aware that in our own country there's serious poverty, that I wring out all the bias within me. That's carrying goodness.
  • For you, it's no longer acceptable that every three hours in our country, a child or young person is killed by a gun. That's carrying goodness.



  1. Hear Father Ragheed singing a hymn to the Mother of God in Arabic - and pray this weekend for the many millions of Catholics in the United States who are caught in a terrible malaise while churches are blown up and priests and nuns are murdered in Iraq and elsewhere. Christian Persecution: Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni (martyr) YouTube

  2. Malaise?? not all catholics, some are suffering more than you think. Rejection, laughed at by there kids, frustration, the fear of what is to come, heart breaking divorces that affect the children. It can cause depression feelings of failure. It cannot compare to Fr. Ragheed's death but it is where we are now, much more to come in America. So, how do you like that?

  3. Oh for sure, there are Catholics who suffer these things. I'm one of six siblings and people ask me, "Father, are there other priests and religious in your family?" And I answer, "The more correct question is are your siblings still practicing Catholics?" But malaise refers to a condition of weariness and discomfort. Yes, the culture is caught in a terrible malaise - a distracted weariness. I was an assistant to a parish of 6000 families. There were hundreds of Confirmation interviews to do. I'd ask the young people if their families went to Mass? Answer, "No." I asked, "Why not?" Answer: "We're too busy." Yes of course, too busy. And there is a great collapse about the things of God - not even bad will - just collapse and inner discomfort about errands, and mortgages and taxes and aging parents. One could suggest that it makes, at least the lived experience of Christianity, which fundamentally is a religion that worships, untenable for many - most? You ask, "How do you like that?" It makes me sad.