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June 15, 2006     562 Words

American Martyr in Guatemala

CINCINNATI—Father Stan Rother was murdered 25 years ago this month, but his legacy lives on. An American-born parish priest serving in Guatemala, he was caught in the middle of their longest civil war, and refused to leave his people. Staying eventually cost him his life. Father Stan is considered a martyr by many and has been proposed for sainthood.

“Father Stan Rother: American Martyr in Guatemala” is the cover story in the July issue of St. Anthony Messenger. Author John Rosengren traveled to Guatemala and writes of Stan’s empathy for the Tzutujil people, his dedication to peace throughout the war and the outstanding risk that he took to preach a message of enduring faith. After June 24, the article will be posted at:

Stan Rother completed his priestly studies in 1964 at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Maryland and was ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. After several pastoral assignments in his home diocese, he accepted an invitation to join 11 other people who staffed the Guatemala mission of the archdiocese. By 1975, he was the head missioner, celebrating five Sunday Masses in four different locations and up to 1,000 Baptisms a year. He was a simple man and worked hard, replacing the church’s stained-glass windows, overseeing the translation of the New Testament into Tzutujil, experimenting with different crops on the parish farm and fulfilling his pastoral duties.

By 1980, Guatemala’s civil war had reached the highlands. Troops set up camp on the outskirts of town and took over a section of the parish farm. Numerous community leaders began to disappear. Father Stan set up a fund for the widows and orphans of the disappeared men in his village. He used the rectory to shelter those who were on a death list, cognizant of the danger. After the deliberate killing of 17 civilians, Stan ordered the bodies of the dead Catholics to be carried to the church for Christian burial—a pastoral duty that could be viewed as public defiance of the military’s terror tactics.

After fellow American missioners warned Stan that the army was out to get him, he went home to Oklahoma. But after three months, he decided that he belonged back in Guatemala. His archbishop counseled Stan that he might not return to Oklahoma alive, but Stan insisted that he must return to his people, saying that whatever happened to him would be God’s will.

On July 28, three men wearing ski masks and civilian clothes sneaked into the rectory and murdered Father Stan. The Tzutujil enshrined Stan’s heart in the church, and his body was returned to Oklahoma.

American missioner Father Greg Schaffer thinks that Father Stan Rother is a great example of what a martyr is about. He says, “I think he’s a saint because of his complete and total dedication and care and giving to those people. That was built on his faith and love of God.”

Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran has encouraged all Catholic people of Oklahoma to pray for the canonization of Father Stan. He has made prayer cards available to distribute throughout the parishes. He has also suggested that this prayer be recited publicly at all Sunday Masses throughout 2006.


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