Arizona native Joyce Coronel has a soothing voice that leaves you hanging on her every word. Now she hopes to entrance you with each page of her first novel, “A Martyr’s Crown.”
Although fiction, Coronel has taken elements of her life growing up in Scottsdale and as a writer for The Catholic Sun to craft a story loosely based on the real hardships facing Chaldean Catholics living in the Middle East.
The storyline is a far cry from her idyllic childhood a stone’s throw from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish where she attended elementary school.
The book is the fruit of two years worth of interviews and work among the Chaldean Catholic immigrant community in Phoenix.
Coronel discovered on assignment back in 2010 that Catholic Christians living and attending Mass in places like Iraq are subject to discrimination, threats and death. So moved was Coronel by the plight of the Chaldean people, she became a catechist last year at Holy Cross Chaldean Catholic Mission in Gilbert.
Although it is not widely known in the Western world, the Catholic Church is really a communion of Churches. There is only one Western Catholic Church, while there are 21 Eastern Catholic Churches, one of them being the Chaldean.
Throughout the United States, there are more than 250,000 Chaldean Catholics living in places like California, Michigan and Arizona. Communities are also found around the world in Sweden, Germany, France, Canada and Australia. Today, however, jihadists in Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere are killing them.
“What they have endured for the sake of faith has taught me how to live a more authentic life,” Coronel said. “I want to be able to surrender every molecule in my soul and have faith like that.”
In 2007, Fr. Ragheed Ghanni, a native Iraqi, was murdered in his car after celebrating Mass at Holy Spirit Chaldean Church in Mosul, Iraq.
Coronel, a mother of five boys who has been involved with pro-life issues since high school, hopes her book will bring attention to the suffering of the Chaldean people and that of Christians throughout the Middle East.
“They take their life in their hands to go to Mass,” Coronel said. “These stories are so quickly forgotten and the media moves on to the next tragedy, but these people are being persecuted, oppressed and killed. These are not the typical stories we are used to hearing.”
Her genuine concern, support and love of the local Chaldean community has endeared her to them. She is now called, “auntie,” as a sign of love and respect.
“My heart beats half Chaldean,” Coronel said. “Their stories have deepened my faith.”
This isn’t the first time she has been embraced by a culture vastly different than her own. Her husband, Pipo, is originally from Venezuela. The two met while attending Arizona State University.
Coronel, a student of Latin American Studies, got a job as a legal assistant and translator at a Phoenix law firm following graduation. When they wanted to send her to law school and make her a partner, Coronel valued the role of mother too much to take the offer.
“I always said I wanted to stay home and raise a family,” she said. “I love having a big family.”
As her boys — now 24, 21, 19, 17 and 13 — grew, Coronel began freelancing with the paper in 2002 as time permitted. She is as congenial in person as she writes in her column, and her readers feel a bond with her and her family.
“Readers feel like they know me because I share my life with them,” Coronel said. “I love working for the Church and writing in a way that inspires and informs. To be able to share the Gospel with people is a privilege, and I’m thankful for it.”
She credits her father, now deceased, as the biggest influence in her life through his devotion to the Church and sacraments. He also nurtured her passion to defend life.
“I loved and respected him. I may be approaching 50, but I’m still a daddy’s girl,” Coronel said. “He was patient and supportive, and he was my first editor.”
During a visit to St. Francis Cemetery, she laid the manuscript on his tombstone, thanking him for teaching her to love words and books.
Coronel said she drew inspiration from her father when she wrote the book, using her lexicon to draw readers closer to God.
‘A Martyr’s Crown’
“A Martyr’s Crown,” will be available Feb. 8 at the Michael John Poirier concert at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, 7 p.m., to benefit the Chaldean Catholic Church in Arizona.
Tickets are $10, or purchase four and receive one free. Info: www.catholic-events.org, or call (480) 239-6768. The book is also available through Coronel’s website at www.joycecoronel.com, local Catholic gift shops and Amazon.