Blessed Stanley Francis Rother was beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. It was the final step before formal recognition as a saint. Father Rother, an American priest who was martyred in Guatemala in 1981, was a contemporary of Unbound’s late co-founders Bob Hentzen and Jerry Tolle.
Our organization has long felt a special affinity for Father Rother, who, in the Tz’utujil dialect of those he served, was affectionately called “Padre A’plas” (Father Francisco). Several of those who knew and worked with him are also members of the Unbound community. The following interview, which took place in Guatemala in October, is with one of those individuals.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Gaspar Baran Guoz. I live in the town of Cerro de Oro, in the Santiago Atitlan municipality. I was born and raised here. Thanks to God’s grace, I’m still part of Unbound. I’ve been working and serving the families for 35 years now. I don’t feel burdened for having worked all those years. On the contrary, I show the happiness I feel when I get to work, and feel the eagerness to continue helping the families.
Right now I am 64 years old. I have seven children, five men and two women. Only two of them have gotten married. By God’s blessings, most are working now, and only one is left studying. My wife is 60 years old, and I only have two grandchildren.
Some of my children no longer live with us, so we try to get together on Sundays to spend some time together.
What’s your role in Unbound?
My role is to support the families and tend to their needs. I also see that my coworkers are doing their job well. I encourage the social workers to do their job as Unbound needs them to, because we are helping families wake up and develop their full potential. For a long time, they just received help and lacked ideas on how to get ahead. Now my role is to fight for and encourage the families. I am the sector coordinator.
Did you meet Father A’plas in person?
Yes, I met him. We did not have any long conversations to be able to establish a friendship, but I did use to greet him and had to talk to him about certain situations in the community. I met him in the 70s. Back then I took part in the Masses that he used to give on Thursdays and Sundays. I also created the group of people who would read the Gospels at church. I got closer to him because he started giving us catechist formation. He taught us how to read the Gospels, and then he taught us to read them in the Tz’utujil language.
He had a lot of faith in the town’s development. He was able to contribute to the reconstruction of Cerro de Oro’s church. He also helped us build a small sacristy. He used to tend to our people during health campaigns, distribute medicine, and he always felt like one of us.
What were Father A’plas goals for the indigenous people of Santiago Atitlan?
He never distinguished himself from us; on the contrary, he became part of us. When he came to visit our homes, he ate with us in our homes and was always very friendly. He would greet all the people with an effusive hug. We could always see his immense joy.
Do you have a special memory of the priest?
I save with love the Bible he gifted me when we were taking those catechist classes at the parish. I still keep it at home, and sometimes I take time to read it and think of him.
How did Father A’plas help the indigenous people?
He procured their education, health and nutrition. He always found a way to gather support so that the people could learn how to work the land. He also helped many elders so that they would not go without food any day.
What do townspeople say, or how do they feel when they hear that someone from their community will become a saint?
I was part of the [local Mass celebrating the beatification], and I could see all of the people’s faith placed on him. You could see the town uniting through the love for him, because they worship from their hearts. I will always remember him because of how he lived his life, and his smile. I feel very happy because, as God’s servant, I can say that I was his friend and he is now on his path to [sainthood.]. I feel closer to my faith in God.
What’s the impact of Father A’plas legacy in Unbound?
I think that, in spirit, God had thought about sending him as a martyr and in that way, offer more support to the communities that needed him the most. He always prioritized the poor’s rights, and always thought that we are and should be equal. He was never in favor of harming others.
It’s very possible that the other benefactors saw the need of our communities and continued helping us get out of poverty because of his spirit and him giving his life [to] this cause.
How does Father A’plas’ work resemble Unbound’s work?
The work is both spiritual and material. Unbound is fulfilling their material work by helping the families. The priest prioritized education for our communities, and we see that Unbound is prioritizing in that area, too.
How does Father A’plas’ love and affection reflect in Unbound?
The families feel the love for others in Unbound, and we are able to help kids by focusing in education. We see that our people identify with Unbound, because Unbound isn’t a building or an office, we are Unbound. Unbound becomes part of the sponsored families, and we feel that mutual love and pride.