On September 23, 2017, the Church will celebrate the beatification of Stanley Rother, a priest who was murdered in 1981 in Guatemala. Beatification is a declaration by the Pope that one of the deceased faithful lived a holy life and/or died a martyr’s death and is now dwelling in heaven. Beatified persons are called “Blessed.”
In the early morning hours of July 28, 1981, Father Stanley Rother was murdered in the rectory of the church of Santiago Atitlán in Guatemala. Unlike other martyred priests of Central America, this Oklahoma farm boy did not pose an obvious threat to the rich and powerful. To some, Father Rother might even have seemed naively detached from the social upheaval around him. But in Guatemala there were those who saw subversion in any effort to affirm the dignity of the Indian peasants. After mastering the Mayan dialect of the Tzutuhil Indians, he quickly won their trust and respect by his complete dedication to the needs of the community. Eventually, the violence in Guatemala reached Santiago Atitlán, and Fr. Rother and his pastoral team were caught up in it. (based on Robert Ellsberg, Give Us This Day)
Reading about Fr. Rother brings to mind the Guatemala that I experienced in 2011. Thirty years later, Guatemala was a different place. I had been invited by a group of educators to work with them on designing a new curriculum and a new teaching approach for a university that would focus on preparing young people for professions in the business world. The proposed university would provide access to higher education for historically underserved populations in Guatemala. (Unfortunately, after several rounds of proposals, the university has not yet been established.)
Although I was in Guatemala City and in Antigua only a short time, I got to know the warm hospitality and generosity of the Guatemalan people – from university professors, to parents, to coffee farmers, to museum curators, and to artists and artisans. I fell in love with the Guatemalan people whom I met, their traditional textiles, and their rich coffee!
As with other martyrs in other Central American countries in the 1980s, I am embarrassed (ashamed?) to say that I did not know of Stanley Rother nor of the persecutions and upheavals in Guatemala. I now feel a strong connection with this young man who is “on his way to being declared a saint.” I have a new appreciation for what my friends and colleagues endured. Blessed Stanley reminds us of the importance of living our ordinary lives in accompaniment with others, sharing in their faith and persistence in their special projects and daily struggles.