The Pilgrimage

Juan Pablo Ixbalan left his home in the village of Santiago de Atitlán, Guatemala. He crossed the lago in a small boat, a panga. Other parishioners accompanied him, and when they reached the shores of Panajachel, they began to walk.

They walked through the highlands and the jungles of Guatemala and crossed into Mexico. They did not have to hide or sneak across. They were expected and welcomed, and then they began to walk some more.

The pilgrimage took them a bit east and then north. They walked past villages and towns and along the outskirts of cities until they got to Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Here they headed into the city to continue their journey to the US border.

Again, they were expected and welcomed. 

They persevered with their walk, knowing they’d already covered more than 1200 miles but had nearly 800 to go. At times they were joined by others for parts of the trip. Many who accompanied them were Guatemalans, but not all.

The pilgrimage continued to the small farming town of Okarche, Oklahoma. There they walked dirt roads, passing fields of corn, cattle, and wheat. Their walk ended, temporarily, in the birthplace of Father Stanley Rother who had been assassinated in the church rectory in Santiago de Atitlán in 1981.

Father Stanley Rother at a fiesta in Guatemala. Photo from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma.

Although the priest’s body returned to Okarche, he left his heart—literally—with the people of Santiago de Atitlán. The heart is buried under the church altar where Rother served the village he loved for so many years.

Juan Pablo and the others made the 2000-mile pilgrimage to honor Fr. Rother and to attend his beatification in September of 2017.

In 2015, thirty-four years after his murder, Father Rother was named a martyr by the Catholic Church.  He was the first US-born priest to be named a martyr. The following year, Pope Francis approved his beatification and the ceremony was held in 2017.

Ixbalan and the other pilgrims were honored and well taken care of while in Okarche, staying in homes of local parishioners and eating, for the first time, fried chicken.

While in Okarche, Juan Pablo and the others had the opportunity to visit Stanley Rother’s childhood home. This is where he broke down in tears.

The sixty-three-year-old man wept for the memory of the priest who’d come to his village in 1968, when Juan Pablo was a teenager. The teen took to the priest quickly, although the man could speak none of the village language, Tzʼutujil.

While Rother had done poorly studying languages when he was in school and laughingly claimed to know fewer than a dozen words of Spanish upon his arrival in Guatemala, he learned the village’s language.

Juan Pablo remembered the man who’d worked side-by-side in the fields with the village men and could even fix the broken tractors.

He remembered the Father searching for—and sometimes recovering—bodies of the village’s disappeared. He remembered the priest setting up a fund for the widows and children of the disappeared. He remembered when the man started a village radio station. He remembered when Rother’s name appeared on the army’s death list.

After resting for some days in Okarche, Juan Pablo and the others began the final leg of their journey: to the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, forty-one miles away.

This time the pilgrims were not alone. Some of Rother’s family and friends went with them and over time, hundreds joined them for the journey, especially on the last leg through the city to downtown.

Hundred walk through Oklahoma City to attend Father Rother’s beatification ceremony. Photo by Doug Hoke, originally published in The Oklahoman.

Over 20,000 people showed up at the convention center for Fr. Rother’s beatification ceremony. Juan Pablo and others from his village participated in the liturgy.

The Cox Convention Center was filled. Photo by Dave Crenshaw, originally published in Today’s Catholic.

Archbishop Paul Coakley conducted the ceremony. Of Rother he said, “Ultimately, if God calls a young man from Okarche, Oklahoma, to be a saint, to be beatified, to be a martyr, it reminds us that all of us, no matter our beginnings, our circumstances, are called to holiness as well.”

Juan Pablo Ixbalan who walked over 2000 miles to honor Father Stanley Rother and attend his beatification ceremony. Photo by Juan Pablo, published online by KGOV in Oklahoma City.

In Praise of the Roundabout

I remember fifteen or twenty years ago when there was all kinds of work done on the Bisbee traffic circle. It went on for months, and when it was done, it looked basically the same. But there was a little landscaping in the center (some ocotillos and cactus) and of course the large N-S-E-W monoliths indicating the cardinal directions were added.

And as the cartoon in the paper said, “Abracadabra!” When the magician pulled the the cloth off the traffic circle, it had magically become a roundabout.

Bisbee Roundabout. Thanks to Jay Jenkins for the drone photo!

Roundabouts are a British thing. Traffic circles are a US thing. The difference at first seems small, though it’s critical: A traffic circle has two lanes and a roundabout has just one.

But as it turns out, there are other differences, due to the design of the single lane roundabout.

First, the number of accidents per year on a traffic circle is quite large compared to wrecks on a roundabout. One reason is when on a traffic circle, people may zip in between oncoming cars and head to the inside lane. But they need to then blast back into the outside lane to exit. Collisions often ensue. 

The roundabout creates much less of a traffic hazard. With one lane, the driver enters when there’s space and never needs to jostle her way to a different lane in order to exit. 

In addition, roundabouts are generally smaller than traffic circles. That is, their diameter is smaller, although this isn’t true for the Bisbee roundabout since it was born as a traffic circle. 

A small roundabout in Tucson

But the smaller diameter of a roundabout leads to slower speeds. Thus, when there is an accident, traffic is moving more slowly so damage done to both vehicles and passengers is less than a wreck on a traffic circle.

This is also true for accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists, and animals. Slower speeds result in less damage or injury.

Another Tucson roundabout

In Britain, roundabouts are often used instead of traffic lights, and there are lots of benefits, from less maintenance to less pollution.

Roundabouts need little maintenance. There’s some grooming (if there’s a garden or grass in the center) and regular repaving and pothole repair. At an intersection with signals, big traffic lights burn out, and they whole signal system generally needs to be replaced every twenty-five years or so—and that usually means calling in the experts.

There are a lot of wrecks at traffic lights because so many people try to blast through on the yellow or even the beginning of the red. And wrecks those drivers cause can be quite severe and even fatal since speed is often a factor.

Then of course traffic lights have operational costs. There’s the monthly electric bill as well as bulb replacement.

Traffic lights can go out when there’s a storm, and often that means a police officer has to head over to direct traffic because some idiots just won’t take turns. But in a city, there aren’t enough officers to cover all the outages, so of course there are a number of car wrecks each time the light’s power is out.

Another big plus for the roundabout is drivers don’t waste gas sitting at a light. How many times have you sat at a light when there’s no cross traffic? Yet you’ve had to sit and wait. And wait. That simply doesn’t happen at a roundabout.

Studies show that each traffic light replaced with a roundabout in Carmel, Indiana, the US capital of roundabouts, saves about 24,000 gallons of fuel.

A roundabout in Carmel, Indiana. Thanks to the city of Carmel, Indiana, for the photo.

Initially, it costs more to build a roundabout, mostly because cities have to buy up more land than they would for a regular intersection. But because roundabouts have lower maintenance costs, have no electric costs, and and never have outages or need to be replaced, over time they save a lot of money.

That city in Indiana, Carmel, has more roundabouts than almost any other city on the planet. Well, more than any other US city. Carmel started replacing traffic signals with roundabouts in the mid 1990s, and they’ve seen an 80% drop in injury accidents.

In 1996, Carmel had a population of 30,000 and had 217 traffic accidents. In 2019, with more than120 roundabouts, there were approximately 100,000 residents and the city saw fewer than 200 traffic accidents.

Carmel currently has 125 roundabouts with plans to add more. There are only about a dozen traffic lights left in the city. That’s big news for the city that claimed Indiana’s first traffic signal.

Thanks to the city of Carmel, Indiana, for this photo it another of their roundabouts.

Carmel proudly says the network of roundabouts has saved money, reduced vehicular emissions, improved air quality, and enhanced community walkability and traffic safety.

The switch to roundabouts came because of one man: the mayor. Jim Brainard had been to England in the 1970s when he was in graduate school. And he loved the concept of no stop-and-go. People just drove placidly on. So refined. So simple. So smart. No lines, no congestion, no pollution pouring out the backs of cars at street corners. 

When Jim became mayor of Carmel, he introduced the idea of roundabouts to the city planners who tossed the idea aside. Jim did the research on how cost effective and efficient roundabouts are, and the planners changed their minds and got behind the idea. 

By the way, roundabouts are also popular in Australia. The town of Canberra even had the International Roundabout of the Year in 2020 with its Gay Pride roundabout.

This roundabout is in Canberra, Australia and was taken from

Will roundabouts catch on in other cities? I surely hope so. I know I now feel proud that Bisbee made the abracadabra! switch from a traffic circle. Anything that can lower the number of car wrecks, save money, cut back on pollution, save driving time and look pretty on top of that deserves our support.