Saturday, July 15, 2006

I want to be with my people (Stanley Rother)

The Oklahoma diocese adopted the T'zutuhil-Mayan community in Guatemala for missions, and they sent priests from their diocese to work as missionaries to the community. Among those priests was Fr. Stanley Rother. He was not politically active, and his fellow priests in the area considered him to be the most conservative in their group. But that wasn't the point. Rother loved his people, and they loved him. And their suffering became his suffering. He could not ignore what he was seeing and living in his parish of Santiago Atitlán.

During those times, the military entered the community and persecuted the Indian community. The Catholic Church was also targeted for persecution. Some 150 other priests and religious men and women were forced to leave the country under the threat of death. Military leaders accused the church of supporting communism through its preaching on human, land and labor rights, and the work of its pastoral agents in the field. The bible came to be considered a subversive book, and people in villages would often hide them, burying them behind their houses or in their fields, so that soldiers would not find them.

One evening, in 1981, a catechist of Fr. Rother’s parish was abducted and disappeared. Rother came to the door and ended up witness to the kidnapping of his friend. He could do nothing, and in the following years, the cries of his friend haunted him. Fr. Rother said, “That makes 11 members of the community that have been kidnapped and all are presumed dead...For these 11 that are gone, there are eight widows and 32 children among the group.”

Soon after, Fr. Rother’s name was in the army’s death list. Fearing for the protection of his flock, Fr. Rother fled to Oklahoma, but returned to the people he loved. “If I have to die, I will die there. I want to be there with my people.”

On the night July 28, 1981, three hooded men came into Fr. Rother’s rectory to kidnap him. But Fr. Rother struggled against them, knowing that he would be kidnapped, tortured and killed. People around the rectory heard Fr. Rother say to the men, “No, I won’t go with you. Kill me here!” Then, he was shot to death. He was the tenth priest to be killed between the years 1980-1981.

Thousands came to the funeral, so many that the pews had to be removed from the church to make room for them. Twenty-five priests concelebrated a Mass on the day of his death. The following day, two bishops and 35 priests concelebrated the funeral Mass. His body was buried in Oklahoma, while his heart was in Santiago Atitlan.

The US Embassy did not even send a representative to the memorial Mass for Rother. Only one American reporter attended. There have been no congressional fact-finding teams. Sources within the US Embassy in Guatemala indicate the incident has a low priority. Like the four American nuns killed in El Salvador, the American administration ignored his death and continued sending military support to the repressive soldiers of Guatemala.


Post a Comment

<< Home