OKLAHOMA CITY — More than 200 Arkansans turned the beatification Mass of Blessed Stanley Rother into a pilgrimage by traveling together, praying, singing and learning more about the Oklahoma martyr.
Four buses left St. John Center in Little Rock Sept. 22 and stopped at St. Michael Church in Van Buren on their way to Oklahoma City.
Liz Tingquist, director of youth and campus ministry for the Diocese of Little Rock, led about 100 teens and chaperones from around the state. They stayed overnight at St. Gregory University in Shawnee, sleeping on the gym floor, and participated in a XLT retreat led by college students.
Another bus was full of Spanish-speaking diaconate aspirants and their wives, led by Deacon Marcelino Luna, associate director of the diocesan faith formation and diaconate formation office.
The final bus was loaded with other diocesan employees, House of Formation seminarians and other parishioners from Central, Southern and Northwestern Arkansas, coordinated by Arkansas Catholic.
Dozens of other Arkansas also attended with their families or other parishioners. About 12 priests, 12 deacons and nearly all diocesan seminarians attended the Mass at the Cox Convention Center.
Deacon Patrick Friend, who will be ordained a priest in May, said he was inspired by the simple “yes” that Father Rother gave in 1968 and what has transpired since that time.
“Look how many people were brought together by one person saying ‘yes,’” he said. “One person said ‘yes’ to their vocation and he paid the ultimate price with his life, but every person is called to say ‘yes’ in their own way.”
Many Arkansans recognized the significance of the day and the likelihood that they would never get to attend a beatification Mass again.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Luna said. “It’s not going to happen again in my lifetime, anyway. It’s overwhelming seeing the devotion and faith of everyone. But it is also the sadness of the ones who couldn’t get into the Mass (because of overcrowding).”
Paula Marinoni, a member of St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville, asked pilgrims to pray for the healing of her former pastor, Father Gregory Hart, through the intercession of Blessed Stanley Rother. Bishop Taylor touched her St. Michael and St. Benedict medals and rosary to the Blessed Stanley relic, placed on the altar at the convention center.
“All of heaven was there (at the Mass),” she said. “When they would sing or say the Our Father my whole body was tingling. It was just the most amazing experience of a lifetime.”
In addition to the proximity of the Mass to Arkansas, the connection between the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Arkansas was strengthened when Bishop Anthony B. Taylor was ordained a bishop in 2008. From 2007 to 2008 Bishop Taylor was the episcopal delegate for the canonization cause. He interviewed 50 people in Guatemala and the U.S. on the heroic virtues of Father Rother.
Bishop Taylor, who was ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in 1980, met Father Stanley Rother briefly in 1981 while the missionary was visiting for the ordination of his cousin, Father Donald Wolf. Father Rother’s funeral in Oklahoma City was held Aug. 3, 1981, on the first anniversary of Bishop Taylor’s first Mass.
The only eyewitness to the murder was Francisco Bocel, who came to the U.S. for his safety and was temporarily housed at the rectory with Bishop Taylor before a family in Oklahoma City welcomed him in.
Bishop Taylor, who visited Santiago Atitlán three times in the 1980s, also participated in anniversary pilgrimages, which are held every five years on Blessed Stanley Rother’s feast day, July 28.
Filipe Coché, 38, a parish secretary at the Santiago Atitlán church who was baptized by Father Rother, has a special appreciation for Bishop Taylor’s commitment to the canonization cause. Bishop Taylor is the godfather of his 7-year-old daughter Andrea Elena.
“I am very moved,” he said before the ordination Mass, wearing traditional Guatemalan clothes. “The joy is one to never forget.”
Coché, who served as a notary for the cause, said about 12 parishioners made the trek to Oklahoma City for the Mass.
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