‘This was the plan of God’

Ok­la­homa priest loved parish in Gu­atemala

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY CARLA HINTON Re­li­gion Edi­tor chin­ton@ok­la­homan.com

Edi­tor’s note: This story is part of “Road to Saint­hood,” an on­go­ing se­ries about the late Rev. Stan­ley Rother, the first U.S.-born male and U.S. priest named a mar­tyr by the Ro­man Catholic Church. His be­at­i­fi­ca­tion, at a cer­e­mony planned for Sept. 23 in Ok­la­homa City, will place him one step closer to can­on­iza­tion.

A re­tired Ok­la­homa City bishop re­cently re­called his last visit with the Rev. Stan­ley Rother in spring 1981.

The Most Rev. Euse­bius Bel­tran said his mem­ory of the meet­ing is par­tic­u­larly vivid be­cause of the priest’s ur­gent re­quest:

He wanted Bel­tran to in­ter­cede on his be­half with then Ok­la­homa City Arch­bishop Charles Salatka who had re­jected the Okarche na­tive’s plea to re­turn to Gu­atemala.

“He was ex­tremely sad that he couldn’t re­turn. Be­cause he felt so strongly about it, I told him that I would talk to Arch­bishop Salataka,” Bel­tran said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view.

Now, as Bel­tran, 84, awaits Rother’s Sept. 23 be­at­i­fi­ca­tion cer­e­mony, he re­called how the cler­gy­man ex­uded love and com­pas­sion for the peo­ple of his beloved Gu­atemalan parish.

So it came as no sur­prise that the priest wished to re­turn to them — de­spite know­ing that his name had been placed on a “death list” amid the tur­bu­lence of the Gu­atemalan Civil War.

Bel­tran is cur­rently arch­bishop emer­i­tus of the Arch­dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City. He was bishop of the Dio­cese of Tulsa when he met with Rother that fi­nal time.

It was cus­tom­ary for mis­sion priests to meet with bish­ops of both dio­ce­ses on a reg­u­lar ba­sis be­cause the dio­ce­ses sup­ported and prayed for their mis­sion ef­forts.

Bel­tran said Rother had come home to Ok­la­homa to visit his fam­ily and tend to some busi­ness.

“I thor­oughly en­joyed

meet­ing him and hear­ing about the mis­sion,” he said.

“I told him I wanted to visit, but he said be­cause of the Civil War there it was not a good time.”

Bel­tran said Rother re­it­er­ated his now-fa­mous phrase — “the shep­herd can­not run at the first sign of dan­ger” — and he agreed with the priest’s idea that the Church should stand firm even in the face of trou­ble.

“I felt it was what the Church should do. I felt that the Church should not run from dan­gers and prob­lems,” Bel­tran said.

Rother didn’t hes­i­tate to re­turn to Gu­atemala once Salatka gave the OK.

Bel­tran said the next time he spoke to the Ok­la­homa City bishop about the priest was when Salatka in­formed him of Rother’s death on July 28, 1981. The priest was shot and killed by un­known as­sailants in the rec­tory of his Gu­atemalan parish.

Shock set in im­me­di­ately. But, with an un­der­stand­ing of Rother’s rea­sons for re­turn­ing to dan­ger, even­tu­ally came a sense of ac­cep­tance.

“I was dis­mayed, and yet I was re­lieved be­cause this was the plan of God,” Bel­tran said.

He trav­eled with Salatka to visit the Gu­atemalan arch­bishop shortly af­ter Rother’s death and the three of them agreed that Rother “was truly ‘mar­tyred for the faith.’”

Bel­tran said he made it a pri­or­ity to see that the priest was placed on the path to saint­hood.

Cham­pi­oning the cause

Rother was among sev­eral cler­gy­men and re­li­gious sis­ters who were killed while they served the Church in Gu­atemala dur­ing the Civil War.

Bel­tran said there was a move­ment in Gu­ata­mala to send a list of names of th­ese mis­sion­ar­ies who had been mar­tyred to Rome in the hope that they would be rec­og­nized in some way by the Church.

Ge­orge Rigazzi, the Arch­dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City’s ar­chiv­ist, said there were 28 peo­ple on that list. Rother was No. 28.

Bel­tran said that project ul­ti­mately failed, per­haps be­cause the Gu­atemalan church didn’t have many trained peo­ple to over­see the com­plex process of the cause for can­on­iza­tion. Af­ter a cou­ple of years went by, he said, he suc­cess­fully ob­tained the per­mis­sion of Gu­atemalan clergy lead­ers and Rome to be­gin the cause for Rother’s can­on­iza­tion in his home dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City.

Bel­tran said his fer­vent wish was to see the Ok­la­homa City arch­dio­cese’s por­tion of Rother’s cause for can­on­iza­tion com­pleted by 2010 — be­fore he re­tired.

The process was be­gun in 2007 and com­pleted in Au­gust 2010. Bel­tran re­tired in Fe­bru­ary 2011. He was 78, the manda­tory re­tire­ment age for bish­ops in the Church.

Bel­tran won­dered if he would live long enough to see Rother’s be­at­i­fi­ca­tion. He said he feels blessed that the time has ar­rived.

“I was con­vinced from my first meet­ing with Fa­ther Rother that he was a good and holy priest. I’m con­vinced that he had a call from God to be­come a priest,” Bel­tran said.

He has now set his sights on at­tend­ing Rother’s can­on­iza­tion, which he is sure even­tu­ally will hap­pen.

“I would love to see that. I would go to Rome or wher­ever it is,” he said, smil­ing.

“Fa­ther Rother has been an in­spi­ra­tion to me.”

[PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OK­LA­HOMAN AR­CHIVES]

The Most Rev. Euse­bius Bel­tran, then arch­bishop of the Arch­dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City, in 2007 dis­cusses the cause for can­on­iza­tion for the Rev. Stan­ley Rother at a news con­fer­ence at the Catholic Pas­toral Cen­ter in Ok­la­homa City.

[PHOTO BY CARLA HINTON, THE OK­LA­HOMAN] [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OK­LA­HOMAN AR­CHIVES]

The Most Rev. Euse­bius Bel­tran, arch­bishop emer­i­tus of the Arch­dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City, vis­its an ex­hibit Fri­day about the Rev. Stan­ley Rother on dis­play in the Her­itage Gallery at the Catholic Pas­toral Cen­ter in Ok­la­homa City.

The Most Rev. Euse­bius Bel­tran, then arch­bishop of the Arch­dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City, holds up in 2007 a pic­ture of the Rev. Stan­ley Rother as he dis­cusses the cause for can­on­iza­tion for Rother at a news con­fer­ence at the Catholic Pas­toral Cen­ter in Ok­la­homa City.

[PHOTO COURTESY OF ARCH­DIO­CESE OF OK­LA­HOMA CITY]

The Rev. Stan­ley Rother blesses a child dur­ing a cer­e­mony at his San­ti­ago Ati­t­lan parish in Gu­atemala.

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