The Guatemalan Civil War from 1960 to 1996 remains one of the most brutal conflicts in Latin American history. The Roman Catholic Church sent priests when the country was undergoing high levels of death, illiteracy, low incomes, and persecution. Father Rother (from Oklahoma and the first American priest to be beatified) was one of many priests sent.
Father Rother connected with the Tz’utujil peoples, spread Catholicism, and eventually died for living out his Catholic faith. To connect with the Tz’utujil, Father Rother broke bread with the hungry, befriended all members of the community (including the outcasts), and learned Tz’utujil. The civil war within the country led to the military occupying the area Father Rother was at. They claimed they were protecting the community against the communist rebels, but the communist rebels weren’t there anymore. So, the military was the one inflicting danger– and Father Rother pointed this out.
Though, Father Rother was an American and respected by the Tz’utujil peoples (thus, protecting him), his protection didn’t last, as he opened the door to his killers (so that no one else would get hurt– he also didn’t cry for help) and fought so that he wouldn’t be taken alive.
Now, he is memorialized with others who helped the people caught in the middle of Guatemala’s civil war. Priests were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. People were killed in horrifying ways that seemed too gruesome to detail.
Stories like Father Rother’s demonstrate the inhumanness of civil war, the innocent casualties, and the positive difference that individuals can make, especially in antithesis to the history of the role of foreign governments (eg the United States) in Latin American affairs.
“Life and Death in Guatemala: The Witness of Stanley Francis Rother” -Dr. Charles Kenny