Persecution of those who follow Christ is older than the Roman Catholic Church itself. History is replete with the great trials and tribulations of the faithful but, fortunately or not, those trials are all far removed from us here in twenty-first century America.
Joyce Coronel’s first novel, “A Martyr’s Crown,” reminds us, however, that true persecution is no further away than those among us who have traveled from the Middle East in the hope of escaping violent persecution at the hands of Muslim fanatics and even some governments in the region.
Coronel’s book is the story of two families — one Chaldean Catholic from Mosul, Iraq, and the other Roman Catholic from Phoenix. Aside from the faith, the two families share a common bond — the loss of a child.
For us here in America, the story reveals a burdensome dose of reality. The events, while largely fictitious, prey upon the unsuspecting reader, claw at the rose-colored glasses we all wear. They demand from us the attention that our mild, peaceful, religiously-free lives often ignore. As we follow the tragedy of the young Iraqi family literally fleeing bullets and death, Coronel reminds us that the “blood” of the cross is what manifests the symbol of our salvation.
Centuries have separated us from the true knowledge of our own American tribulation, allowing us to forget that the religious liberty we enjoy was also born by the blood of countless people who have gone before us and have left their memories in the red stripes of Old Glory.
Based upon actual events and the experiences wrought by two years of interviews of Chaldean Catholics in the Valley, Coronel shows us the bigger picture, the tenuous nature of our own religious liberty, and the steadfast nature of the human spirit given an eternal promise by God.
I’d like to call the book sweet, refreshing, a bit melodramatic, and even agonizingly triumphant, but I cannot. Circumstances move people to action when they face threats, when family members are killed, or when their clergy are tortured and exterminated simply for following Christ. For us in the United States, this book is a wake up call. It’s time for us to put on the armor of God and prepare for battle.
The narrator of the book, a journalist for a local newspaper, is moved by the plight of Chaldean Catholic refugees who come to Arizona. She writes a story on a local Chaldean Catholic parish. She enlists the interest of an Iranian-American friend who relates to their plight, having converted from Islam to Catholicism and, in doing so, lives under the threat of death within the context of Sharia law.
For us here in the United States, changing horses in the middle of the stream, as they say, is part of our religious liberty, but elsewhere, religion is life or death.
Our own religious persecution has begun, and we have access to the faith expressed by the Chaldean Catholics in the story who left difficult circumstances with virtually nothing and journeyed to this country, as all our own ancestors did before us. While we do not yet face bullets for our religious beliefs, we come from a long line of folks destined to wear the martyr’s crown.
As we see nativity scenes removed from the public square, prayer removed from schools, the fallacious separation of church and state used as a tool of secular religious tyranny, we find ourselves soothed by the wisdom expressed by Fr. George, the pastor of the Chaldean Church, who was kidnapped, tortured by fanatics, and left barely alive before being sent to the United States.
As a person, Fr. George battles with forgiving his tormenters, knowing that the judgment upon them is best left to God. Our narrator, who struggles with forgiveness in the death of her own child, is slowly transformed by the Father’s wisdom and the words of our Lord in Scripture.
Coronel’s book is well-written. Its characters and natural flow keep readers engaged to its unresolved ending. Such endings reflect our circumstances, our wants and needs, our troubles and triumphs, which ultimately reconcile themselves completely only when we are called home.
“A Martyr’s Crown” is just such a book of life, and a powerful one at that.