Pope Francis praises beatified Okla. priest as ‘courageous witness’ to the Gospel

A crowd of 20,000 gathered at Mass in Oklahoma City to celebrate the beatification of a missionary martyred in Guatemala 36 years ago

The virtue and example set by Stanley Francis Rother, who over the weekend became the first U.S.-born priest and martyr to be beatified, has been praised by Pope Francis.

Bl. Fr. Rother was killed on July 28, 1981, after returning to Guatemala to continue his missionary work, despite death threats and warnings that his life was in danger.

Addressing the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 24, Pope Francis said the priest was “killed in hatred of the faith for his work of evangelization and work to promote the human dignity of the poorest people in Guatemala,” Vatican Radio reported.

“May his heroic example help us to be courageous witnesses to the Gospel, committed to working on behalf of the dignity of man,” Pope Francis said.

On Sept. 23, about 20,000 people gathered at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City for the beatification of Bl. Rother, a native of nearby Okarche.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City celebrated the Mass, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Joining them were more than 50 bishops and cardinals from Italy, South Africa, and Guatemala, as well as more than a dozen U.S. states.

Residents of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, where Bl. Rother had served from 1968 until his murder, were able to watch via a live video stream.

The town was one of the hardest hit in violence that cost 200,000 lives during Guatemala’s 26-year civil war that ended in 1996.

Bl. Rother wrote to the bishops of Tulsa and Oklahoma City in 1980 explaining he had hidden men and boys who were under threat. The government regarded the indigenous people as allies of leftist guerrillas as they shared the same desire for change.

“The church seems to be the only force that is trying to do something [about] the situation, and therefore the government is after us,” Bl. Rother wrote.

In total, 13 priests and hundreds of Catholics were killed nationwide during the violence.

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