Mosul (AsiaNews) For two months, 81 children braved check points risking their lives as bombs exploded and clashes took place all around them on a daily basis. They made it thoughthey successfully received their First Communion at the Holy Spirit Church, not far from the Church of St Paul which, with four other Iraqi churches, was targeted on August 1 last year in a terrorist attack.
Their parish priest, Fr Ragheed Ganni, was proud of his little parishioners. "Given the exceptional circumstances, they had the courage to do things even better that they would have, if circumstances were normal," he said.
He told AsiaNews how the childrenaged 11 to 14started preparing for the "great day" two months ago when school ended.
"Sometimes they found themselves caught in the midst of US troops; at other times, road blocks prevented them from reaching the church. Still, they accepted the challenge in spite of their fear and won," he said.
When two mosquesone Sunni, one Shiite were hit by attacks on July 12 and 16 respectively, they prayed in church for the victims. "Praying is a believer's best weapon".
What kept the kids going, overcoming discouragement, was keeping their eye on the prize, i.e. "closely knowing Jesus, being with him, no matter what, and at any price. Only Jesus is enough".
Friday mass was celebrated by Mgr Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul. During the function, the prelate urged the children taking the First Communion to "always remembers that there is no life without the Eucharist, no life without Jesus. We must always tell Jesus time and time again what he told the two disciples on the way to Emmaus: "Stay with us" (Lk: 24, 29).
But for one of the children, First Communion was also the first day without his mother, who passed away the day before. With her loss he was alone since his father died two years ago.
"The child's relatives did not know what to do since local custom and traditions dictate a long period of mourning," Father Ragheed said.
What is more, "many Iraqi Christians have lost the spiritual meaning of such an event and have only retained its social aspects. For years, we have tried to make them understand that some customs can be put aside in order to uphold the values of the Gospel," he explained. "Thus, everyone took part in the ceremony, including the little orphan's three cousins who also received their First Communion."
His mother's last wish was for her son to receive the Eucharist. "The Body of Christ that these children received for the first time is also what we need in our time of death," Father Ragheed added.