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First U.S.-born martyr to be beatified

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Father Rother served in Guatemala missions during civil war
OKLAHOMA CITY (CNA)

Father Stanley Rother, the Oklahoma-born martyr who served as a priest in Guatemala, will be beatified in Oklahoma City on Sept. 23.

Pope Francis officially acknowledged Father Rother’s martyrdom in December, making the priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City the first recognized martyr to have been born in the United States.

Born in Okarche, Okla., Father Rother graduated from Mount St. Mary's seminary in Maryland. While still in seminary, St. John XXIII asked the Churches of North America to send assistance and establish missions in Central America. The dioceses of Oklahoma City and Tulsa established a mission in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.

A few years after he was ordained, Father Stanley accepted an invitation to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

The beloved Padre Francisco was known for his kindness, selflessness, joy, and attentive presence among his parishioners. Pictures show giggling children running after Padre Francisco and grabbing his hands, said Maria Scaperlanda, author of The Shepherd Who Didn't Run, a biography of the martyr.

“It was Father Stanley’s natural disposition to share the labour with them, to break bread with them, and celebrate life with them, that made the community in Guatemala say of Father Stanley, ‘he was our priest,’” she said.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings, and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Father Stanley remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point. Father Stanley was constantly seeing friends and parishioners abducted or killed. In a letter to Oklahoma Catholics during what would be his last Christmas, the priest relayed to the people back home the dangers his mission parish faced daily.

“Given the situation, I am not ready to leave here just yet … But if it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it ...”

He ended the letter with what would become his signature quote: “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”

On the morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Father Rother's rectory.

They wished to “disappear him,” but he refused. Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 March 2017 14:13  

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