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Blessed Stanley Rother’s influence remains felt in Guatemala

July 30, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

Sololá, Guatemala, Jul 30, 2019 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- There’s a black and white photo that holds a special meaning for those familiar with Blessed Stanley Rother— the farm-raised Oklahoma priest who gave his life for the faith 38 years ago while serving the poor in Central America.

The picture shows the tall, bearded priest standing on the steps of his mission church in Guatemala, holding the hand of an indigenous girl, probably four or five years old, who is gazing up at him.

“There’s actually a statue that was made based upon that photograph,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City told CNA.

“No one really knew who that young girl was, but in recent months she has been identified and we had a chance to meet her [on Sunday].”

Coakley led a group of 53 pilgrims, most from his diocese, on a trip to Guatemala to celebrate Father Rother’s July 28 feast day in the parish where he served.

“She was there with her mother,” Coakley continued. “This woman is now in her 40s, her mother must be in her 60s or 70s, but we had a chance to meet her, greet her, and that was a beautiful moment because I’m very familiar with the photograph and the image.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>LITTLE GIRL FROM FAMOUS ROTHER PHOTO FOUND!<br><br>SANTIAGO ATITLAN — The year before Blessed Stanley Rother was murdered in Guatemala, an iconic photograph of him holding the hand of a young girl was captured outside of… <a href=”″></a></p>&mdash; Archdiocese of OKC (@ArchOKC) <a href=””>July 30, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Portrait of a priest

Blessed Stanley Rother was from the small town of Okarche, Oklahoma, abour 40 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. He was born in 1935 and attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church and School his entire life before joining the seminary, where he struggled at first, but he eventually graduated from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1963.

While Rother was in seminary, St. John XXIII asked the Churches of North America to send assistance to and establish missions in Central America.

Soon after, the Oklahoma diocese established a mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people, a group called the Tz’utujil, who are descendants of the Mayans.

A few years after he was ordained, Fr. Rother accepted an invitation to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

The group from Oklahoma City, along with a number of other pilgrims from the US, went to Guatemala last week to visit some of the places where Rother served in the 1960s and ’70s, including his mission parish in Santiago Atitlan.

Archbishop Coakley celebrated Mass Sunday morning at St. James the Apostle Catholic Church in Santiago Atitlan.

“We had two beautiful Masses, and the people there are very traditional in preserving their Mayan culture, Mayan dress, and they came in great crowds to the Masses that we celebrated in both Santiago Atitlan and in Cerro de Oro,” he said.

Fruits of Blessed Rother’s ministry

A group from the archdiocese generally visits Guatemala every five years, and this was the first year the group has visited since Rother’s beatification in 2017. Last year Coakley had stayed home, because he wanted to be in the archdiocese for Rother’s first feast day.

“[On Monday] I met a priest who had been baptized by Father Stanley many years ago, and I think he was the first Tz’utujil priest to be ordained from the diocese,” Coakley said.

“That was a quite evident fruit of Blessed Stanley’s ministry. Many things are still flourishing there that he was a part of, that he helped to start. The parish is strong, many vocations have come from the parish, he developed a farming cooperative, some agricultural projects that are still going strongly.”

“One of the things that really helped him connect with the people is that he took the time and made the effort to learn their language, which was a very difficult Mayan dialect,” Coakley continued.

He also helped to translate the Bible into their language, organizing a team to translate the New Testament so they could read it at Mass. That translation is still used to this day.

“He acquired the skill and proficiency so that he could preach in it, could speak to the people in that, and that was really some of the key to his success. That and the fact that he just loved being with them. He would work with them, he would eat with hem in their homes, visit them, so it was a powerful witness that endeared him to the people and he had certainly fallen in love with the people themselves.”

Blessed Rother’s influence is still felt in the parish and in the town, especially since relics of the priest are kept in the church for the people to venerate.

“The love that the people of Santiago Atitlan have for Blessed Stanley is very apparent,” Father Josh Mayer, a priest of the Diocese of Gallup who was also visiting Guatemala for the feast day, told CNA.

“At the parish, his presence is everywhere – his heart and his blood are in the Church, the room that he was killed in has been converted into a chapel in his honor, the parochial school has been named after him. Blessed Rother is well-known all over town.”

Mayer is pastor of two parishes in the Diocese of Gallup – St. Mary in Bloomfield and St. Rose of Lima in Blanco – which have a partnership with a Guatemalan school called Escuela Integrada. Father Mayer said the vibrancy of the parish where Rother served is an inspiration to him, especially the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration, which he says is always full when he visits.

“The Catholic community in Santiago Atitlan is incredibly vibrant and active. I’ve never seen as many altar servers as they have at each Sunday Mass in Santiago – it’s incredible,” he said.

“The Eucharistic Ministers and lectors and catechists and other ministry groups are all incredibly well organized and everyone takes their roles very seriously. The people are very proud of what they do for Jesus and His Church. Every time I visit the parish of Santiago Apostol, I’m inspired with a vision of what we could do at our parishes back home.”

Despite the vibrancy of the parish, Mayer reflected that Guatemala is a “land of extremes”: a beautiful, rich environment populated by people notable for their kindness, warmth, and sense of community and family life. At the same time, material poverty, malnutrition, envy, extortion, and abuse are common.

“And yet, in the midst of these profound difficulties, the Guatemalan people have a profound sense of hope and joy,” he said.

“Their faith, hope and love shine forth in a way that really is miraculous…there are many Catholic and Christian groups that work, in ways big and small, to help our brothers and sisters in Guatemala.”


In the early morning hours of July 28, 1981, three ski-masked men broke into the rectory of the mission where Rother was living. The men were Ladinos— non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of the country since the 1960s.

The men attempted to kidnap Rother at gunpoint, but he refused and resisted, struggling but refusing to call for help so as not to endanger the others in the parish mission. Within fifteen minutes, the men had shot the priest twice and fled.

“What Blessed Rother did on the night of July 28, 1981, wasn’t essentially different from what he was already in the habit of doing – pouring his life out for the people that Jesus had called him to serve,” Mayer reflected.

“He died well because he lived well, for God and for the flock he was given. It’s a great inspiration and a deep challenge: if you want to die as a martyr, if you want to die like Jesus, don’t wait for some terrible opportunity to come to you. Pour your life out, now, for God and for the people that He’s put in your life, and then you will be ready if the ultimate sacrifice is demanded of you.”

Path to sainthood

The Oklahoma City archdiocese opened Rother’s cause for canonization in 2007.

Pope Francis recognized Rother as a martyr in 2016. He is the first martyr from the United States and the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified, the archdiocese says.

The Rite of Beatification took place Sept. 23, 2017, in downtown Oklahoma City with more than 20,000 people from around the world in attendance.

Rother is a well-known figure in the Oklahoma City archdiocese and throughout the state. Last week, Governor Kevin Stitt proclaimed July 28 Blessed Stanley Rother Day in Oklahoma. The day coincides with Rother’s feast feast day, the 38th anniversary of his martyrdom.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is in the final stages of design of a 2,000-seat shrine church, museum, and campus in his honor, to be located in south Oklahoma City, according to the archdiocese website.

“Blessed Stanley is really, in my estimation, kind of an everyman’s saint. There’s something about him that everyone can relate to,” Coakley reflected.

“He’s very human, he struggled to get through seminary, he worked hard to get through seminary…he applied all that God had given him, developed those skills and talents, and everything came in handy when he found himself at the mission.”

“Family, community, parish life were all very important to him growing up, and so he embedded himself in the parish in Guatemala among the families that he served. He became a part of each family. So I think his dedication, his availability, his determination, his willingness to roll up his sleeves and work hard, he didn’t take himself too seriously…He was courageous when things got difficult, he knew what he was facing but he chose to remain there and stay with his people, and that’s what cost him his life— his love for his people and his love for the gospel, and his desire to be faithful to the end.”


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After John Paul II Institute students publish letter, president defends changes

July 30, 2019 CNA Daily News 2

Vatican City, Jul 30, 2019 / 01:37 pm (CNA).- The president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute said Tuesday that despite recently published objections from students and alumni, he believes changes at the school are a move in the right direction.

Speaking July 30 to Vatican News, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri aimed to respond to a recently published letter, signed online by more than 250 students and alumni of the Institute, expressing concern about the dismissal of some faculty members, about new norms for governance and administration, and about shifts to the school’s curriculum, which will soon eliminate a chair in fundamental moral theology amid a new focus on the social sciences.

“We want to express our greatest concern: the loss of the formational approach, and therefore, of the identity of the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II,” the student letter, dated July 24, said.

“Many students have expressed their immense concern after the unexpected publication of the new statutes and the new program of studies for our new Institute, together with the sad news of the expulsion of two professors whose chairs have a central role in the formation offered by the institute,” the students added.

Sequeri said that a change to the Institute’s curriculum and direction, called for by Pope Francis in 2017, and delineated explicitly in recently approved statutes, “responds to the great impulse of Pope Francis, who encouraged the Institute from the outset to equip itself with all the tools necessary to fulfill the mission entrusted to it since its creation of John Paul II, in the new context in which the Church lives its bonds of love in the context of the transmission of human life and of the Christian faith that pertain to marriage and the family, according to God’s plan.”

“New tools mean instruments of knowledge: not only in the sphere of the so-called sciences and human rights, but also theological and pastoral studies, which must more closely be united to one another. New tools also mean adequate resources for updated information and practical training (international considerations, pastoral counseling, comparative law, family mediation, etc.). The meticulousness in the transparent and deep adherence to the richness of Catholic tradition and the authoritative magisterium, however, obviously does not represent an innovation,” he said.

Regarding the concerns of students and alumni, Sequeri said he had only been recently notified of “the arrival of a letter, signed by several dozens of ‘students and former students’ (we have had thousands, of course) which expresses concern about the possibility of losing the solid training guaranteed by the Institute and about their uncertainty concerning the passage and coordination of the new teachings.”

Its organizers say the letter was sent by email on July 25 to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the institute’s grand chancellor, and to Sequeri, and by registered mail on July 26.

“I am a little surprised that the letter, addressed to me (and to Archbishop Paglia) has been made public even before the recipients gave feedback and had time to respond. In any case, many communications relating to legitimate requests for information and reassurance are already being fulfilled, at the same pace as the ongoing definition of the process. It will be my responsibility, of course, to draw up a final answer, based on the real data of all the formalities in full operation,” Sequeri added.

On the website publishing their letter, students of the John Paul II Institute say they have not yet received assurance that they will be able to continue in the academic programs they began, and that the dismissal of two theology professors suggests they will not be able to do so. They also expressed concern about whether dismissed faculty members had been treated with due process.

The students noted in particular the dismissal of two professors of theology: Msgr. Livio Melina, the school’s long-time president, and Fr. Jose Noriega, DJCM.

In a July 29 press release, the Institute said that Melina was dismissed because his chair in fundamental moral theology was discontinued, and that Noriega was being let go back because his position as superior of his small religious community is “incompatible” with his duties as a professor. Noriega has served as his community’s superior for 12 years; his term as superior concludes in January 2020.

Sequeri told Vatican News that although some students have raised concerns about the Institute’s direction, others “have already written expressing confidence in the renewal and expansion of research and training in theological-pastoral and anthropological-cultural fields,” at the Institute.

Sequeri lamented the controversy surrounding changes to the Institute’s identity.

“The polemics, more or less malicious, that in this regard, try to involve the many students that look with trust to the project of a truly ‘Catholic’ knowledge and formation, obviously cultivate other interests. They are not the ones of John Paul II, not the ones of Pope Francis, not the ones of the Institute.”

“Love must banish fear, communion must overcome distrust, and the beauty of our common cause must prevail over personal interests,” he added.

On their website, the students said they do not wish to cause discord.

Their aim, they wrote, is to share “objective facts based on the situation, without making judgments or considerations that could harm or go against the unity of our Church or against the image of the Holy Father, Pope Francis.”

The students added that they published their letter online to “inform the public about the serious situation that our Institute is now experiencing. Our wish is also to ask for justice and to see our rights and those of our professors guaranteed in a clear way.”


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Chinese officials claim most Xinjiang detainees have been released

July 30, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Beijing, China, Jul 30, 2019 / 11:01 am (CNA).- Government officials from China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region said Tuesday that the area’s re-education camps for Muslims have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang, a region in China’s northwest that is roughly the size of Iran.

Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uighurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The Chinese government has said reports on the camps by Western governments and media are unfounded, claiming they are vocational training centers and that it is combatting extremism.  

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of Xinjiang, said at a July 30 press conference in Beijing that “most of the graduates from the vocational training centers have been reintegrated into society,” according to the AP. “More than 90% of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes.”

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz said detainees were allowed to “request time off” and “regularly go home,” the AP reported.

While they are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study”, he said, they may do so at home.

Tuniaz also said that “the majority of personnel who received education and training have returned to society and gone back to their homes,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “The majority have successfully secured employment.”

Neither Zakir nor Tuniaz provided figures to back up their claims.

The press briefing also included a performances by minority artists in traditional garb, highlighting Xinjiang as a tourist destination.

The Xinjiang officials’ claims were met with scepticism outside China; David Brophy, senior lecturer in modern Chinese History at the University of Sydney, said to the Wall Street Journal “How much of this employment involves forced relocation to elsewhere in China? How much of it is taking place in education camps that have now been repurposed as heavily surveilled factories?”

Uighurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

In August 2014 officials in Karamay, a city of Xinjiang, banned “youths with long beards” and anyone wearing headscarves, veils, burqas, or clothes with the crescent moon and star symbol from using public transit. That May, universities across the region banned fasting during Ramadan.

Attention was drawn to the human and religious rights situation in Xinjiang at the recent Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held by the US State Department earlier this month.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said July 18 at the gathering that survivors of the detention camps have described “a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out” Islam.

In response, Chinese officials have been outspoken in defense of policies in the region.

In June, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) told a congressional hearing that China’s campaign to “sinicize” religion is proceeding with brutal efficiency. “Under ‘sinicization,’ all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology — or else,” Smith said.

“Religious believers of every persuasion are harassed, arrested, jailed, or tortured. Only the compliant are left relatively unscathed,” Smith stated.