Homeless people don’t usually get a good press in our society.
So, the story of the death of a homeless man in San Francisco strikes a warm chord in the heart, especially at this season of the year when we prepare to honour Jesus who was born in a stable because there was “no room in the inn.”
As reported on page 16, Thomas Hooker lived on the streets of San Francisco the last 20 years of his life. But his personality and gentle spirit endeared him to the parishioners of the Star of the Sea Catholic Church.
They brought him food and some gave their money to him instead of to the church.
Hooker spent a part of each day praying in the back pews of the church. Otherwise, he’d be found pushing a shopping cart along the street and talking to himself. His “house” was a tarp on a street corner.
“Thomas was a kind and friendly soul, always had a smile on his face, always had something complimentary to say to you,” a parishioner noted at the funeral. A funeral home donated his casket and prepared his body for burial. A collection was taken up at the funeral mass to provide him a proper burial.
“The meaning of being homeless beyond shelter is when you lack a home, lack a family who understands you. You are homeless when you don’t feel you belong anywhere,” said pastor Rev. Joseph Illo. “Many of us who live in more comfort are more homeless than Thomas was. He had a home with us.”
Hundreds of people attended the funeral. Illo eulogized Hooker as “a kind of patron saint of the homeless.”
Born in Trinidad, Hooker emigrated to the United States. His story stands in marked contrast to the current mood in America about other immigrants.
Pope Francis has recognized the martyrdom of Rev. Stanley Rother of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, making him the first martyr born in the United States. The announcement was made Dec. 2, and it clears the way for his beatification and eventual canonization.
Rother was born in 1935 on his family’s farm near Okarche, Oklahoma.
He was assigned by the archdiocese in 1968 to go to Guatemala. There he helped the people build a small hospital, school and its first Catholic radio station. He was beloved by the locals, who called him “Padre Francisco.”
Many priests and religious in Guatemala became targets during the country’s 1960 - 1996 civil war as government forces cracked down on leftist rebels supported by the rural poor. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics were kidnapped and killed during the state-sponsored oppression, normally after being placed on death lists.
Rother came home to Oklahoma after his name was put on a death list, but he returned to Guatemala since, he said, “The shepherd cannot run.”
A few days after his return, he was shot in the rectory of his church in Santiago Atitlan. He was 46. Government officials blamed the Catholic Church for the unrest in the country that they said led to his death. On the day he died, troops also killed 13 townspeople and wounded 24 others in the isolated village 50 miles west of Guatemala City.
The traditional criterion for being called a martyr to be killed in odium fidei or “in hatred of the faith.” Pope Francis expanded the definition in 2015 for the case of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.
He said one of the questions about Romero’s case was whether odium fidei could be proven only against a person’s beliefs or also against the good works the person did because of his beliefs.
Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, author of a 2015 biography of Rother, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma, says he’s an example of the difference one person can make.