Earlier this month the Vatican declared that Father Stan Rother died as a martyr in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, on July 28, 1981.
A missionary from Oklahoma he earned the love and respect of the indigenous people who were in his parish. He learned their language – and they called him A’plas.
Henri Nouwen wrote Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story and María Ruiz Scaperlanda’s book, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother: Martyr from Oklahoma, will be out at the end of September. So I won’t say much about his life.
But Father Stan is another witness of God’s love for the poor and the costs of discipleship.
He was not unaware of the costs and the dangers, especially in Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s. As he wrote in his Christmas 1980 letter:
“A nice compliment was given to me recently when a supposed leader in the Church and town was complaining that ‘Father is defending the people.’ He wants me deported for my sin.
“This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. 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.”
Yet he did leave for a time when he was informed that he was on a death list. However, he returned.
All of us, not only those in mission lands, need the witness of Father Stan so that we can have the courage to stand with those in need, at the margins of this world – as Pope Francis says – offering a sing of love and perseverance in the midst of dangers and trials.
For martyrs aren’t made at the moment of death. Martyrs have prepared for their self-giving by a life of putting God and others at the center. Death is accepted because life has been given – as Jesus did.