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OKLAHOMA CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The United States will be getting its first martyr.
Father Rother was an American priest murdered while working as a missionary in Guatamala in the 1980s. Officials at the Vatican are calling the life of Fr. Stanley Rother worthy of imitation, leading to Pope Francis proclaiming him a martyr on December 2, 2016.
A declaration of martyrdom can only be made when it is proven they were killed solely from a hatred for the Church. Father Rother's beatification is the final step before canonization and requires confirmation of a miracle attributed to his intercession.
Father Rother came from a rural farming community of Okarche, in the archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Being a simple man, he had difficulties during his training as a priest but persevered through the example of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, and was ordained on May 25, 1963.
In 1968 he accepted the call to serve the diocesan mission group in Guatemala, aiding the native peoples suffering genocide during the Guatemalan civil war.
The priest spent 13 years as a mission priest in the areas of Cerro de Oro and Santiago Atitlan, educating and ministering to the native people of the region. His unassuming presence and practical knowledge allowed him to relate well with the people despite their extreme poverty. He spent much time helping with their daily needs and offerred Mass in their native language of Tzutuhil, which was not a written language prior to the arrival of Oklahoman missionaries. Translating the new testament into Tzutuhil, building a church, school and hospital, and starting a Catholic radio station that broadcast lessons in mathematics were some of his labors.
The 36-year conflict between pro-communist government forces and mostly Catholic Mayan and Ladino peasants resulted in more than 200,000 civilians killed and more than 1 million displaced, nearly all of them Catholic. At least 12 other Catholic priests and numerous religious disappeared or were murdered during the conflict for their resistance to the government-backed genocide.
During the early part of the civil war
, the conflict remained in the cities but expanded to the rural sections of the country just before his execution. Not only were leaders of the resistance put on death lists, but catechists also, who took to sleeping in the Church for safety. Father Rother's name, too, appeared on the list, and he returned home to Oklahoma for a short time. Wanting to ensure the people in his community had a priest to celebrate Easter, he returned to Guatemala, knowing his life was in danger.
In a letter written to friends and family shortly before his death, he wrote: "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 night of July 28, 1981 two foreign men broke into the rectory of Santiago Apostol. Chosing to remain silent for fear his assailants would hurt others in the building, he did not call for help. After a brief struggle, he was shot twice in the head and killed.
He was so beloved and venerated by the people of his parish, they refused to part with his body. At their request, his heart was removed and placed in a reliquary beneath the altar where he celebrated Mass. His body is buried in his home town.
The beatification will take place September 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
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