IMAGE: CNS photo/Dave Crenshaw, Eastern Oklahoma Catholic
OKLAHOMA CITY (CNS) —
The martyrdom of Blessed Stanley Francis Rother “fills us with sadness but
also gives us joy to see the kindness, generosity and courage of a great man of
faith,” Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’
Causes, said Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.
He is “an authentic
light for the church and the world,” the cardinal said in his homily during
the U.S. priest’s beatification Mass. “He didn’t hate but loved. He didn’t
destroy but built up. This is the invitation that Blessed Stanley Rother
extends to us today to be like him as witnesses and missionaries of the Gospel.
Society needs this source of good.”
The cardinal was the main
celebrant of the beatification Mass, joined by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of
Oklahoma City and his predecessor, retired Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, who
formally opened the Rother sainthood cause 10 years ago.
More than 17,000 people
packed the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City for the beatification of
Father Rother, murdered in 1981 as he served the faithful at a mission in
Guatemala sponsored by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. The evening before a prayer
service was held at St. Benedict Parish in Broken Arrow.
Before the Mass began,
the congregation was shown a documentary made about his life and ministry
titled “The Shepherd Cannot Run: Father Rother’s Story.” Then
Cardinal Amato, Archbishop Coakley, Archbishop Beltran and about 50 other U.S.
bishops, over 200 priests and about 200 deacons processed in for the start of
the beatification ceremony.
welcomed Catholics “from near and far” who traveled to Oklahoma
“to celebrate the life and witness of Father Rother. He acknowledged the
ecumenical, interfaith and civic leaders in attendance and those joining the
celebration by watching live coverage of it on the internet, TV and radio.
Before Cardinal Amato
read the apostolic letter declaring Father Rother “blessed,” Archbishop
Beltran gave some remarks, saying that little did Father Rother know that his
growing-up years on his family’s farm near Okarche “would mold him into
the kind of man who would make great strides when he volunteered to go to
“He struggled in
seminary,” the archbishop remarked, referring to the difficulty the priest
had with learning Latin. He was nearly expelled because he had such a hard
time, but he went on to be ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in
1963. Once in Guatemala to
serve in Santiago Atitlan, he learned Tz’utujil, the language of
the many Mayan descendants who were his parishioners. He helped translate the
Bible into Tz’utujil.
He worked side by side
with the people “teaching them many of the agricultural practices he
learned in Okarche,” Archbishop Beltran said.
The mission was about 10
years old when Father Rother arrived, with a staff of 10, but the number of
missionaries dwindled as Guatemala’s civil war, which began in 1960 and lasted
until 1996, intensified. Eventually, Father Rother’s name appeared on a death
list and he returned home.
“His ways were very
quiet and unassuming but eventually he began to receive death threats,” the archbishop continued. “He made infrequent visits
(back to Oklahoma). On his last visit (in 1981) he felt the need to return to
his people no matter what the consequences.”
Friends recalled him
saying, “The shepherd cannot run. I want to be with my people.” Within
three days of his return, three men entered his rectory in the dead of night
and murdered him.
“His saintly life
has become well known beyond boundaries of Oklahoma and Guatemala and the faith
of those familiar with his life has been greatly strengthened. How grateful we
are to almighty God this day for the beatification of Father Rother.”
Cardinal Amato followed
the archbishop by reading the formal letter about the priest’s beatification.
When he concluded, a huge colorful banner was unfurled above the altar with a
likeness of Blessed Rother and an image of his Guatemalan mission and the coat
of arms of the Oklahoma archdiocesan coat of arms at the bottom.
His feast day will be
celebrated July 28, the day when he was fatally shot in the head by masked men.
Relics of Blessed Rother,
including a piece from one of his rub bones, were brought to the altar in a golden
reliquary and set on a small table to left of the main altar. Cardinal Amato
venerated the relics and using censer
Rother family members
then came up to the altar to greet the cardinal: his sister, Sister Marita
Rother, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who lives at her
community’s motherhouse in Wichita, Kansas; and his brother Tom and his wife,
Marti, who live on the farm where the martyred priest and his siblings grew up,
located three miles from the center of Okarche.
In his remarks,
Archbishop Coakley said that on behalf of the local church in Oklahoma “and in
communion with my brother bishops in the United States and Guatemala,”
he felt “profound gratitude” for the opportunity to help celebrate the
beatification of a native son.
“We are grateful for
your (Pope Francis) recognition of the heroic witness of this good shepherd
(who) remained with his people. He gave his life in solidarity with so many
suffering individuals and family who endured persecution for the sake of the
Gospel. We pray the church will experience a new Pentecost and an abundance of
vocations to the priesthood inspired by the witness and aided by the
intercession of Blessed Stanley Rother.”
He thanked Archbishop
Beltran for formally opening the Rother cause, as well as the postulator,
Andrea Ambrosi of Rome, who attended the Mass, and the many men and women who
worked diligently over many years to advance the cause and “make known
holiness and heroism of this ordinary priest.”
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