A Guatemalan Story
This book is the story of Henri Nouwen's visit to Santiago Atitlán, a Mayan town deep in the highlands of south-western Guatemala in 1984. He went there to pray with a friend of his, Father John Vesey, who had gone to minister in Santiago Atitlán three years after the martyrdom of a dear friend of his, Father Stanley Francis Rother, a missionary priest from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Father Stan had served the people of Santiago for thirteen years before his death at the hands of a Guatemalan death squad in July 1981.
This small book of 128 pages contains many photographs taken by Peter Weikel, a friend of Henri Nouwen and his companion on the trip to Guatemala. It also contains telling quotations from letters written by Father Stan to friends and relatives during the last year of his life. In September 1980 he wrote to a friend, 'At the first signs of danger, the shepherd can't run and leave the sheep to fend for themselves.' (p. 54). And in November he wrote, 'Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.' (p. 56).
He did not want to be killed but Father Stan died as he lived, fighting for his people. He was a quiet giant, a straightforward, unsentimental and unambiguous man, who lay down his life for his friends. His successor Father John was a different character, very much a man of prayer, but not like a monk: he moved, talked, planned, preached all the time. He joked, laughed, teased whenever he could and showed his heart to anyone who wanted to see it. He knew that 'praying is letting one's own heart become the place where the tears of God and the tears of God's children can merge and become tears of hope.' (p. 100).
The room where Father Stan was brutally murdered on July 28, 1981 was turned into a small chapel, where those who continued his work met to pray three times a day. Tertullian proclaimed that 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church'. Nouwen observed that Stan had sown the seed, and John went to reap the harvest (p. 27). In an Epilogue Father John explains how he arrived in Santiago Atitlán in July 1984 and was forced to leave that November because of the dangerous situation.
This new edition of Nouwen's story is published on the 25th anniversary of Father Stan Rother's death, a martyrdom which is still relatively unknown. It deserves to be widely read and reflected on because as well as telling the story it contains gems of wisdom from the missionary priests.
Sue Groom, July 2006
The Revd Sue Groom is the Director of Deanery Licensed Ministry for the Kensington Episcopal Area of London. Before this she was Vicar of St Matthew's, Yiewsley and also served as the Reader Training Officer for the Willesden Episcopal Area. She is the author of Linguistic Analysis of Biblical Hebrew (Paternoster Press, 2003).Orbis Books | Order from www.christianbookshops.org