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What our 2nd American-born martyr, to be beatified Saturday, is still saying to youth today

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James Miller was an educator by vocation; his testimony makes the same invitation now that it did during his life

Brother James Miller, a native of Wisconsin, will be beatified December 7 in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, the place where he was martyred on February 13, 1982, at the age of 37.

Pope Francis has sent Cardinal Jose Luis Lacuna, bishop of David, Panama, to preside over the ceremony.

The cardinal spoke with Vatican News about Brother Miller, who was a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

“A good Catholic educator is like a seed that sooner or later will bear fruit,” the cardinal said. “He teaches youth to reason with criteria they’ve made their own, to make decisions that are consistent with their faith, as this brother-martyr did, remaining close to the boys up to the end.”

James Miller grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, a “very active man,” as described by the postulator of his cause, Brother Rodolfo Meoli. He met the Christian Brothers in 1955 when he began school at Steven Point. There he discovered his vocation and began his novitiate in 1962.

He quickly won over his students and everyone else as well: a robust man with an ever present smile, ready to do whatever task was at hand, including sweeping the floors or cleaning the toilets.

He was sent to Central America in 1969, to Nicaragua. But after a certain time, given the political situation there, he had to leave for a year and returned to the family farm. Yet he dreamed of returning to his flock in Central America.

It was in 1981 that he was assigned to the Colegio Indígena de Huehuetenango.

“Those were turbulent years for the country,” explained Brother Meoli. “There was a type of silent persecution whose victims were mostly Catholic religious, ‘guilty’ of defending the poor. For example, in the indigenous university where Brother James was, many of the Mayan youth studying there were from families who had land in the mountains, and had had their land taken from them by the landowners, with the approval of the government.”

The religious faced an increasingly greater threat as time went on; no one knew when the “death squads” supported by the army would strike.

It was in his second year in Guatemala that one struck Miller.

Brother James was killed as he lived — as he was in the midst of completing a task at hand. He was hanging a light on the outside of one of the buildings, because the next day, February 14, the kids would have a dance. He was at the top of a ladder, intent on his task. Gunmen shot him and disappeared within seconds.

They didn’t understand the greatness of a martyr, reflected Brother Meoli:

Martyrs continue speaking even after their death, in fact, especially after their death. And in particular, Brother James continues speaking today to youth, inviting them to listen to their own interior voice, the voice of God, so often suffocated by the thousand voices that we have around us. He is an example of the need to ‘disconnect’ from the many devices that are round us in daily life and ‘connect’ with goodness, and with the call of God addressed to each one fo us.

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