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Blessed Rother ‘an authentic light’ for church and world, says cardinal

09 9.28.17_rother.tapestry HALFA tapestry of Blessed Stanley Rother is seen during his beatification Mass Sept. 23 at Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center. (CNS photo/Dave Crenshaw, Eastern Oklahoma Catholic)

September 28, 2017
Catholic News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY – If the martyrdom of Blessed Stanley Francis Rother “fills us with sadness,” it also “gives us the joy of admiring 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.

The 13 years Blessed Rother spent as a missionary in Guatemala “will always be remembered as the glorious epic of a martyr of Christ, an authentic lighted torch of hope for the chturch and the world,” the cardinal said in his homily during the U.S. priest’s beatification Mass.

“Formed in the school of the Gospel, he saw even his enemies as fellow human beings. He did not hate, but loved. He did not destroy, but built up,” Cardinal Amato said.

“This is the invitation that Blessed Stanley Francis Rother extends to us today. To be like him as witnesses and missionaries of the Gospel. Society needs these sowers of goodness,” he said. “Thank you, Father Rother! Bless us from heaven!”

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.

An overflow crowd of 20,000 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.

In Rome, Pope Francis said Sept. 24: “May his heroic example help us be courageous witnesses of the Gospel, dedicating ourselves in supporting human dignity.” After praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope recalled the “missionary priest, killed out of hatred for the faith, for his work in evangelization and the human advancement of the poorest in Guatemala.”

In Oklahoma City, before the Sept. 23 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 ceremon

In an earlier interview with Catholic News Service, retired St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, a friend of Father Rother’s, recalled picking up the priest on a visit to the U.S. in 1979. Archbishop Flynn said he was appalled by the horrific situation the priest described in Guatemala. Members of his congregation had disappeared and were presumed dead, victims of a civil war between the government and guerrilla groups.

“If they asked for a few more cents for picking coffee beans, they were considered communists, and a truck would come into the village that night, stop at the home of the man or woman who asked for a few more cents, take them out to the country, torture them, kill them, and then throw their bodies into a well to poison that well,” said Archbishop Flynn.

Father Rother described the situation “with a passion,” Archbishop Flynn recalled. “It was haunting him. He said, ‘If I speak, they’ll kill me, but if keep silent, what kind of a shepherd would I be?’”

The friends shared meals together that week, but Father Rother spent his days praying at the historic Lourdes grotto at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, a place he had loved while he and Archbishop Flynn were seminarians. At the end of the week, he told then-Father Flynn, “I know what I must do. I must go back and speak.”

“But,” Archbishop Flynn recalled, “he also said this: ‘They’re not going to take me out and kill me somewhere in the country and then throw my body into a well.’ He said, ‘I’ll put up a fight like they’ve never seen before.’”

Archbishop Flynn took Father Rother to the airport and said goodbye. He knew it would be the last time he would see him alive. Two years later, in 1981, Archbishop Flynn opened a newspaper to read that an American priest had been killed in Guatemala. He didn’t have to read further to know it was Father Rother.

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