Four years ago I learned about Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma priest who worked in a remote area of Guatemala from 1968 to 1981. I visited the parish of Santiago Atitlan where the ministered to a majority Tz’utujil indigenous population.
Joy and excitement were palpable at the beatification ceremony of Father Stanley Rother held yesterday in Oklahoma City. Anticipating his violent death, Blessed Stanley left instructions that after his death, he wished for the Paschal Candle to be lit in the church while Easter hymns were sung. Knowing this, I imagine he would have been delighted with the atmosphere at the beatification.
Blessed Stanley, priest and martyr, is a modern-day heroic example of what it means to be a missionary disciple. He left the comforts of his home in Oklahoma to be a missionary in a forgotten (though beautiful) corner of the world. He surrendered his life to the preaching of the Gospel to the Tz’utujil people. He learned their language. He not only worked for their spiritual improvement, but also for their physical and material betterment. He worked the fields along with them, and then fed them at the Eucharist with the Bread of Life.
Knowing his life was in danger, he refused to abandon his people. He lived by his now famous words, “a shepherd cannot run from his flock at the first sight of danger.” The night before he was brutally murdered in his rectory, he was warned by parishioners that rumors said that night he would be killed. Blessed Stanley would not be moved, he remained with his flock.
Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was the main celebrant at the beatification ceremony, and was accompanied by several dozen bishops. The arena which holds 14,000 was full, and an overflow within the building live streamed the ceremony to those unable to find a seat inside the arena. Blessed Stanley’s family was in attendance. Realizing that if he were alive today he would be eighty-two years old, means that he has plenty of relatives alive. His sister, Sister Marita (a religious sister) read the first reading. His nieces and nephews brought up the gifts at offertory, and his brother and sister-in-law were also present.
In Santiago Atitlan, Father Stanley Rother has been a martyr and saint ever since the night of July 28th, 1981. May he continue to pray for us, for the Guatemalan people, and give all the baptized the necessary zeal to become missionary disciples.
Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us