In August 2006, two Fox News journalists were kidnapped from the van they were riding in in Gaza. Apparently, the men from the Holy Jihad Brigade were convinced that they were somehow connected to our government, and the Palestinian extremist group demanded the release of prisoners in the US in exchange for these two souls. By the end of the month, the men were released, but not before they were told to convert to Islam at the point of a gun:
On August 27, the Palestinian news service Ramattan and Fox News reported that Centanni and fellow captive Wiig were released unharmed, shortly after a new video was released. In the video, both journalists, wearing beige robes, read statements saying that they had converted to Islam, with Centanni stating “Islam is not just meant for some people; it is the true religion for all people at all times.”
After being freed Steve Centanni stated “We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, and don’t get me wrong here, I have the highest respect for Islam, and learned a lot of very good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do, because they had the guns, and we didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
When they returned to the US, they appeared on a number of shows to describe their ordeal, and they talked about their fear when being told that they must make a declaration of faith and convert to Islam. One thing bothered me about the story was that they made this declaration of faith. True, it was under durress, so it can hardly be called a true converstion. (Catholics take conversion and sacraments so seriously that if you being coerced in any way, it’s considered invalid.) However, I was still bothered by the idea that they denied their Christian faith (assuming that they were Christians) to save their lives.
I can’t say I would have done it differently. Please understnad that! In that situation, at that time, I might very well have been giving lip service to wahtever was going to save my life in that moment and get me back to my husband and children. Throughout the history of the Church, people have done this and come back, confessed, and been welcomed back to the Church. Others have lived double lives, attempting to maintain the Faith in their homes — in secret — while going through the motions of Islam in public for fear of punishment. And, of course, a great number of people accepted death rather than deny Christ.
I gave all of this a lot of thought after Centanni and Wiig were rescued from captivity. I wondered how they felt about their “conversion” after everything was over. In their interviews, they seemed to treat it as if it wasn’t a big deal. That could have been a matter of bravado — I have no idea what their private conversations were like with pastors and families. But it could be that they saw no problem with paying lip service to Islam out of self-preservation.
And that was when I started to pray for myself.
I began to pray that, if it ever came down to it, I would rather embrace death than deny Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That I would take the sword before I even paid lip service to any faith but the one I profess to be true. That I would have the strength of the early Church martyrs who refused to even give a pinch of incense to Caesar because, in doing so, they were admitting Caesar was a god.
Last week, I wrote about the Canticle of Zechariah — about the idea that to worhip without fear meant to worship without fear of death and martyrdom. Now, when I pray the Canticle, I ask God to give me the strength, if it should come to it, to be a martyr for Him. I’m not asking to die, mind you, but for the conviction of heart to be ready to accept my death if and when it comes. To look my attackers in the eye and say, “Viva Cristo Rey!” as I throw my arms open wide. To sing hymns of praise as I go to my death, so that I might open my eyes on the other side of the veil, still singing praises to Him Who loves me more than any other.