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
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.