Book Reviews2 Love In A Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story

Book written by: Henri Nouwen

On July 28, 1981 Fr. Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City was murdered in Santiago Attilan, Guatemala in his rectory.  He was murdered by supporters of the Guatemalan military who were ruling the country at that time.  Fr. Rother was considered a revolutionary by the corrupt government because he tried to help the people of his parish.  He was not a person interested in politics; he was interested in his people for whom he had come to serve. 

The Catholic Church in Oklahoma (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa) under Bishop Victor J. Reed decided to sponsor and staff a mission in Guatemala.  Santiago Attilan was the mission chosen.  In 1964 Fr. Ramon Carlin was the first pastor of the mission, known as “Micatokla” which means Mission Catholic Oklahoma or the Catholic Mission of Oklahoma.   In 1968 Fr. Stanley Rother became the second pastor of the mission and was the pastor until his death in 1981.
Fr. John Vesey, a priest from Brooklyn, New York, succeeded Fr. Rother three years after his martyrdom.  Fr. Vesey invited his friend Fr. Henri Nouwen, the renowned Dutch author, to come to Santiago Attilan to pray with him.  Nouwen agreed to come if he could bring his photographer friend Peter K. Weiskel.  Vesey agreed to this.  Nouwen and Weiskel arrived in Guatemala in the late summer of 1984.  They saw many beautiful sights and many ugly things too.  They witnessed beautiful events and heard about the evil things that had happened and were still happening.

Vesey asked Nouwen to write a book on Fr. Rother and the events surrounding his martyrdom and the aftermath. Nouwen collected information in Guatemala from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Fr. Rother’s family and friends and other sources.  He quotes from these various sources throughout the book. 

Nouwen’s book is very readable. Readers will find themselves reflecting on the events that Nouwen is presenting.  Nouwen did a great tribute to this holy martyr.  The dictatorial military governments of Central America had declared war on the Catholic Church.  They considered the Church as being subversive and filled with communists.  While there might have been some of these, most were clergy, religious and laity were just trying to help people in order to make this world better and to save souls.  These governments were not open to real democracy or of sharing anything with the poor or with Indians.  They wanted these peoples to unquestionably obey them and remain in their places in society.  Anyone who even seemed to be opposed to them was to be destroyed or put into their place by terrorism.  They had no respect for human life.  The Church was the only major institution that stood up to the governments and said what they were doing was evil and wrong.  Many in the Church paid for this with their lives and one of these is Fr. Stanley Rother.

In Fr. Vesey’s addition to Nouwen’s book he mentions that in 1994, Pope John Paul II asked for the local churches to submit names of martyrs.  Many Central American martyrs’ names were sent along with Fr. Rother’s. 

The Church in Guatemala was unable to pursue the cause of canonization for Fr. Rother, so the Church in Oklahoma decided to step in.  Archbishop Eusebius Beltran of Oklahoma City asked if the cause could be pursued in Oklahoma.  The authorities in Rome agreed and on October 5, 2007, Fr. Rother’s cause for canonization began. 

One day Stanley Rother may be a canonized saint.  Many of the people in Santiago Attilan and in Oklahoma believe he is a saint, as does this reviewer.  Fr. Vesey did not get to stay in Santiago Attilan too long himself.  He ended up on a death squad’s list too, but he was sent home before they could kill him.  The Catholic Church in Oklahoma still supports the mission.  Go to for more information on Fr. Rother and the Guatemalan mission.

The book is highly recommended to those interested in Fr. Stanley Rother, the Church in Guatemala, and as an example of the atrocities committed in Central America during the 1980s.

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