Vatican panel calls Fr. Stanley Rother a martyr

by Tom Gallagher

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The Arkansas Catholic announced the news that a Oklahoma priest, Fr. Stanley Rother has been determined to have died in hatred of the faith or odium fidei.  Rother served the people in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, from 1968 until his death despite death threats during the country’s civil war. The rectory room where the priest was murdered is now a shrine. 

 According to diocesan story:

“He gave himself fully to his people,” Bishop Anthony Taylor said. “He remained with them courageously in a time of darkness. When a wolf threatens a flock, the shepherd remains. He laid down his life for his people long before they came to kill him.”

After the determination of martyrdom is confirmed, Rother can be beatified, the final stage before canonization.

“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,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said.

During a June 23 meeting in Rome, nine theologians gave a majority vote on Rother’s formal and material martyrdom in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith). The cause now must be approved by a panel of 15 cardinals and archbishops, who are members of the congregation.

The next meeting on the cause is expected in six months. If the panel agrees, the prefect will present it to Pope Francis, who will promulgate the decree of beatification.

Beatification permits public veneration and declares that the life of the blessed is worthy of imitation among the Christian faithful.

The June decision comes nearly a year after Coakley presented a formal petition to the congregation along with an extensive document, or positio, which summarizes the facts and testimony concerning the life and death of Rother.

Taylor said he is hopeful the beatification Mass could be held in Oklahoma City in 2016 for the 35th anniversary of Rother’s death.

To learn more about this impressive priest, see my 2010 NCR story on Rother titled, "A story of what it means to be a pastor."

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