First American Martyr Recognized by Vatican

by Stefan Farrar  •  •  December 2, 2016   

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ROME ( - Pope Francis is recognizing Fr. Stanley Rother as the first martyr born in the United States.

Rome made the announcement on December 2, which allows for the beatification process to start. Father Rother was martyred on July 28, 1981, shot in the head twice by right-wing militants associated with the Guatemalan government.

Father Rother was from Oklahoma, where he served as a priest in local parishes, before requesting to be sent to Guatemala in 1968.

While there, Fr. Rother was well known for his humility, compassion and kindness towards his parishioners.

"Father Stanley Rother is truly a saint of mercy. He fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, visited the sick, comforted the afflicted, bore wrongs patiently, buried the dead — all of it," said Maria Scaperlanda, author of "The Shepherd Who Didn't Run," a biography about the martyr-priest.

The archbishop of Oklahoma City, Paul Coakley, commented,

Father Rother laid down his life for Christ and for the people of his parish in Guatemala, whom he dearly loved. It is very encouraging to move one step closer to a formal recognition by the Church of Father Rother's heroic life and death as a martyr for the Gospel.

He spoke these words in response to a theological commission's decision at the Congregation of the Causes of Saints last year to recognize Fr. Rother as a martyr.

During his time in Guatemala, civil war broke out, which eventually ended up affecting the local community where he served. At the time, Fr. Rother wrote to Abp. Charles Salatka of Oklahoma City,

The country here is in rebellion and the government is taking it out on the Church.The low wages that are paid, the very few who are excessively rich, the bad distribution of land — these are some of the reasons for widespread discontent. The Church seems to be the only force that is trying to do something (about) the situation, and therefore the govt. is after us. There are some that say the Diocese of Solola, where the mission is, is the next area on the list for persecution.The reality is that we are in danger.

The civil war eventually deteriorated to the point where Fr. Rother feared for his own life, yet he maintained courage in the face of death.

"This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm," he wrote. "The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us."

After returning to Oklahoma, and when he found out he was on a government hit list, he returned to Guatemala, saying, "Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock."

Archbishop Coakley has said of Fr. Rother's example,

Although the details are different, I believe the call is the same — and the challenge is also the same. Like Father Stanley, each of us is called to say yes to God with our whole heart. We are all asked to see the other standing before us as a child of God, to treat them with respect and a generous heart. We are called to holiness — whether we live in Okarche, Oklahoma, or New York City or Guatemala City.


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