On November 1, 2010 I made a phone call that ended up changing my life.
We had just had our staff meeting for The Catholic Sun Newspaper and we were kicking around ideas for the upcoming issue.
“Anybody hear about that attack on the church in Baghdad yesterday?”
A few people nodded. All we had were the bare facts: 58 people were killed by Al Qaida operatives during Mass. I knew there had to be a local angle, so I volunteered to start digging.
For years, I’d driven past Mar Abraham Chaldean Catholic Church in Scottsdale. My parents, who had died less than two years earlier, had lived not too far from the church. I’d always wondered about the place. All I really knew was that the church was made up of immigrants from Iraq.
That’s because back in 2007, I’d written a column about the murder of Fr. Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean priest who was murdered in Mosul, Iraq, along with two subdeacons.
For weeks, the jihadists had told him to close down the church where he served. On the day they shot him, they said, “We told you to close this place!”
His final words to his assailants were courageous. “How can I close the house of God?”
I called Mar Abraham after Fr. Ragheed’s death, but the person who answered the phone didn’t speak much English.
So, on Nov. 1, 2010, I wasn’t expecting much. I dialed the number anyway.
The priest who answered the phone, Monsignor Felix Shabi, spoke excellent English. I asked him about the attack on the church in Baghdad the previous day. He gave me some great quotes. And I mean great.
“We have the blood of martyrs in our veins,” he said.
The following day, I drove up to Mar Abraham for what proved to be an in-depth interview with the priest known simply as Fr. Felix.
I found out that day that Fr. Ragheed was actually Fr. Felix’s cousin. There’s a picture of this modern-day martyr over his desk, an image that was never far from my mind as I wrote “A Martyr’s Crown.”
That first interview turned into a series of stories for The Catholic Sun as well as collaboration between the local Chaldean Catholic Church and the local Roman Catholic Church, all with the blessing of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix.
In May of 2011, Bishop Olmsted met with the Chaldean Patriarch, Emmanuel Delly. It was a first in the history of the Church of Phoenix.
In the fall of 2011, I became a catechist at Holy Cross Chaldean Catholic Mission in Gilbert. While I attend the Roman Rite Mass with my husband and children weekly, the Sunday evening liturgy in Aramaic at the Chaldean church is something that I have come to cherish.
Little by little, I’ve learned the prayers and chants of the Chaldean Rite Mass. My journey has taken me all over the Valley, talking to others about the tremendous suffering of the Christians of Iraq and all over the Middle East.