Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Book Review: The Secret Cardinal

The Secret Cardinal by Tom Grace
After distributing the bread of the Eucharist, Yin offered the wine, reenacting a ritual that originated with the Passover Seder Jesus shared with his closest friends on the eve of his crucifixion. The simple act brought Yin and his congregants into communion with a billion other Roman Catholics around the world and with God.

Yin had prayed in beautiful churches, but nowhere did he feel closer to the Creator than with those clinging to their faith against immense hardship. It was in ministering to his endangered flock that Yin truly fulfilled his calling as a priest and became, in the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, a channel of Christ's peace.

"This is the blood of Christ," Yin said reverently as he offered the blood to a boy just old enough to make his first communion.

The boy bowed his head respectfully and replied, "Amen," but barely allowed the scorching liquid to touch his lips. Yin suppressed a smile.

As Yin took the glass from the boy, he heard a metallic sound, the bolts on a heavy door pulling open. It was a sound he knew well, but not from this place.

"Wake up, old man," a voice barked.

Light flooded in and the sacramental scene faded, erased from his mind's eye by the intrusion. In an instant, the clandestine mass withdrew into his precious trove of memories. ...

A thick steel door and a small air vent were the only suggestion of a world outside the cell. In a tamper-proof fixture recessed into the ceiling, a lone dim bulb provided the only illumination to reach Yin's eyes in thirty years. He had long ago lost all sense of day and night, and of the larger passages of time--temporal disorientation being but one of the techniques employed against prisoners like Yin.

"I said wake up!"
Thus we are introduced to Chinese Cardinal Yin, not known to the world as such because Pope Leo XIV has named him a cardinal in pectore (in his heart, in secret) to keep the Chinese from killing him. As it becomes evident that diplomatic measures to free Yin have permanently failed, the aging pope sends ex-Navy Seal Nolan Kilkenny to extract Cardinal Yin from China and bring him to Rome. This sets off a race against time across Asia which is set against the action in Rome where forces inside the Vatican itself are working to discover the cardinal's identity and reveal it to the Chinese.

I like this sort of thriller which tends to be straight forward between good and bad guys, full of action, and in praise of the dedicated military man's prowess. Recent books I've enjoyed of this genre include Empire by Orson Scott Card and Karl's Last Flight by Basil Sands. I hadn't come across Tom Grace's books before but this book is singularly of interest to Catholics who also enjoy the genre. Grace became aware of the struggle between the church and the Chinese government when he read a transcript of Sen. Joseph Lieberman's tribute on the death of Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei. This sparked Grace's further investigation into the situation which in turn led to this book. Not only is there the action of rescuing the Cardinal, but of a papal conclave which has a mole in its midst leaking news about Yin's escape.

Of course, I not only appreciated the adventure but the Catholic sensibility throughout. Y'all will too.

Originally posted at Happy Catholic.

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