By Fr. Guillermo Trevino
“Why did you come all the way from Iowa for this?” Tony Gutierrez, editor of the Phoenix Catholic Sun for the Diocese of Phoenix asked me. Some of my brother priests and laity asked me the same question. The event was the beatification of Father Stanley Rother on Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
It started with a classmate from my college seminary, Father Cristobal Deloera. He posted on his Facebook page that his parish, St. James the Greater in Oklahoma City, would be having a 3.5-mile march from his parish to the Cox Convention Center where the beatification Mass would be held at 10 a.m. I sent him a message, “Can I come?” He responded, “Sure, that’d be wonderful.”
We saw parishioners in indigenous dress, many having an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They danced every now and then and kept the march going. As we passed two other parishes, Sacred Heart and Little Flower in Oklahoma City, the crowd grew to a few hundred people. Four priests were on the march: my classmate, his pastor, a priest from Guatemala and me. As a thank you, Fr. Deloera led a chant from an Oklahoma City police car cheering for the martyred priest from Guatemala, and for me, who came from Iowa for the beatification. It was such a thrill to be a part of that; the adrenaline kept me going.
When we got to the convention center, sometime around 9 a.m., thousands of people waited in line. I found out later that some had to be turned away. Lucky for me, Emily Pries, the executive secretary for Bishop Thomas Zinkula, prepared a letter in good standing so I could concelebrate the Mass. There were about 50 bishops and 200 priests vesting. I knew several of the Oklahoma City priests who went to Conception Seminary College with me, including the one who did the announcing on EWTN, Father Chris Brashears. Greeting them and meeting new priests, seminarians and laity before Mass made the wait pass quickly.
The Mass was announced to start at 10 a.m. but a 20-minute video recapping Fr. Rother’s life was shown first. “The Shepherd does not run at the first sign of danger,” is the quote that hit me best. Mass started with a procession of about 50 bishops. It was beautiful to see. The beatification occurred at the beginning, right after the greeting. Cardinal Angelo Amato was the main celebrant and is prefect of the Congregation for Saint’s Causes. Archbishop Paul Coakley, archbishop of Oklahoma City, welcomed everyone. He explained why Fr. Rother should be beautified. Cardinal Amato read the letter from Pope Francis declaring Fr. Rother “Blessed” and then a huge colorful banner showing his image appeared.
The rest of the Mass was such an amazing experience, I joked, “I’m converting.” During the homily, Cardinal Amato shared what made Blessed Stanley Rother so great: “Formed in the school of the Gospel, he saw even his enemies as fellow human beings. He did not hate, but loved. He did not destroy, but built up,” Cardinal Amato said. “This is the invitation that Blessed Stanley Francis Rother extends to us today. To be like him as witnesses and missionaries of the Gospel. Society needs these sowers of goodness,” he said. “Thank you, Father Rother! Bless us from heaven!”
After the Mass, I went to the altar to venerate his relic, take some pictures by the new image, and then greet his sister, Sister Marita Rother. She was very kind, genuine and gracious, and had a very long line of people wanting to talk to her. Next, I met some people from Guatemala. A priest yelled at me, a former chaplain of mine from Conception Seminary College, Father Albert Bruecken, OSB, the bishop’s delegate for the canonization of Blessed Stanley Rother. That is the universal church in a nutshell. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ; we just need to take the time to get to know each other.
(Fr. Guillermo Trevino serves at St. Alphonsus and St. Mary parishes in Davenport and St. Peter Parish in Buffalo.)