An Okarche-born priest who was killed in Central America almost three decades ago soon could be recognized as a martyr for the Catholic faith.

The cause for Stanley Rother’s beatification hit a major milestone last month when a Vatican cardinal submitted his name to the committee that considers such declarations. Archbishop Paul Coakley wrote in the Oklahoma City Archdiocese newsletter that if the committee approves, Rother’s name will be forwarded to a larger Vatican council made up of cardinals and archbishops.

From there, Rother’s beatification can be submitted to Pope Francis for final approval.

Rother was a pastor in the Oklahoma City Archdiocese and headed a mission in Guatemala. He initially left the country after receiving threats but returned a few months later. A government-sponsored militia is believed to have raided the mission in July 1981, executing Rother.

A group of local Catholics known as the Rother Guild are campaigning to get him recognized as both a martyr and a saint. Guild leader and Prague pastor M. Price Oswalt called it momentous news.

“Sometimes those things can get bogged down,” Oswalt said.

The current pope has indicated he wants “modern saints from the modern world,” Oswalt said.

In a letter to the Vatican, Coakley wrote he was in seminary when he heard Rother was killed.

“From that time until this very day, the witness of his life and death has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to me as a seminarian, priest and now as a bishop,” Coakley wrote.

He also said Rother’s cause could help evangelize in Oklahoma and affirm the high regard Guatemalan Catholics already have for “Padre Aplas.”

Oswalt said there could be a decision about Rother’s cause sometime next year. At that point, it’s possible the beatification ceremony could take place on American soil. He said there’s only been one other such ceremony, and it happened this month.

After being recognized as a martyr, Rother would be in line for consideration as a saint. However, the Church must recognize a miracle stemming from someone praying to Rother for help.

Oswalt once told a special mass of Enid Catholics, however, “That could take years.”

After he is named a martyr, The Guild will push for followers to pray to Rother as an intercessor, someone who has God’s ear. If a person receives a favor, Oswalt said they should contact The Guild.

The Vatican already has eight boxes of testimonials and interviews from people who knew Rother, and an account of his death from a man who witnessed it.

The boxes also contain about 20 letters Rother wrote. In those letters is an explanation of why Rother returned to Guatemala after receiving death threats, Oswalt said. His final writings are compiled in a book named after an excerpt, where he says “a shepherd cannot run.”

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