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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sr. Dorothy Stang

When I read the interview posted a couple of days ago about the Pope's visit to Brazil, I also read, for the first time, of Dorothy Stang, an American nun of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an order dedicated to providing education to the poor.

Here's what the Sydney Morning Herald wrote in 2005 of Sr. Dorothy ... American nun Dorothy Stang, a leading human rights and environmental activist, was murdered in a suspected contract killing ordered by illegal loggers and ranchers encroaching on a federal peasant farming reserve she helped establish in the Amazon jungle state of Para.

Sr. Dorothy was not alone in her work or her death - hundreds of activists, both secular and religious, have been killed in the effort to help the poor and stop the deforestation of the Amazon, among them Chico Mendes, about whom was made the movie, The Burning Season. What makes this subject timely is that on May 14, after the Pope leaves Brazil, one of those accused of Sr. Dorothy's murder will go on trial.

Why do people like Sr. Dorothy put their lives at risk in this effort? Maybe one reason is the wonder of the area - a profoundly special ecosystem the like of which we'll never see again, should it be destroyed. But there's another reason as well, I think - the desire to see social justice done through helping those in need ... oh, I know, life isn't fair, but people like Sr. Dorothy have the courage to say and to mean that life can be what we make it.

Here below are some excerpts from articles on Sr. Dorothy and the work that got her killed ...

- A look ahead to Benedict in Brazil, NCR, May 3, 2007 ......

Observers say the trial [of Sr. Dorothy's accused murderer] is a landmark case, since the wealthy landowners who order such killings are almost never brought to justice.

Reached by phone at his home in Palmer Lake, Colorado, on May 1, David Stang -- Dorothy’s brother and a former Maryknoll priest -- said he’s “optimistic” about the outcome, especially since one of the shooters already convicted for Stang’s murder named the rancher, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, as one of the men behind the attack. David Stang plans to travel to Brazil to attend the trial.

On the other hand, Bastos himself does not appear to be especially concerned. Two government agencies recently had to compel him to remove 1,500 head of cattle which he had illegally allowed to graze on the very plot of land where Stang was shot to death in 2005. She had sought to have that plot of land protected for use as a sustainable development project.

David Stang said he’s a bit concerned that Pope Benedict’s presence in Brazil may “overshadow” the trial, distracting media attention from the case and thereby reducing some of the public pressure on a notoriously recalcitrant judicial system in Para state. Stang said the “gossip” in Brazil was that the court waited until the dates for the pope’s trip were announced in order to schedule the trial, hoping for precisely this effect.

Yet Stang said the pope’s presence could also prove to be helpful, especially if he were to mention his sister by name. Even in the absence of such a reference, however, a more general appeal for justice for the poor, and those who speak in their name, would also be welcome ......

- Farming the Amazon: Last of the Amazon, National Geographic Magazine, January 2007 .....

In the time it takes to read this article, an area of Brazil's rain forest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed. The market forces of globalization are invading the Amazon, hastening the demise of the forest and thwarting its most committed stewards. In the past three decades, hundreds of people have died in land wars; countless others endure fear and uncertainty, their lives threatened by those who profit from the theft of timber and land.

In this Wild West frontier of guns, chain saws, and bulldozers, government agents are often corrupt and ineffective—or ill-equipped and outmatched. Now, industrial-scale soybean producers are joining loggers and cattle ranchers in the land grab, speeding up destruction and further fragmenting the great Brazilian wilderness.

In 2005, after gunmen hired by grileiros murdered Sister Dorothy Stang, an American-born nun and environmental activist, the Brazilian government accelerated a crackdown, suspending logging permits throughout the Amazon—most of which had been falsified to launder illegal timber. Federal police and IBAMA intensified their investigation into irregularities in the timber business. Waves of troops were dispatched to Mato Grosso and Pará. They seized truckload of contraband timber. Of the more than 300 people arrested, about 100 turned out to be IBAMA officials involved in a far-reaching conspiracy to sell millions of cubic feet of endangered hardwoods to the U.S., Europe, and Asia .....

I'd like to say that the whole world will be watching the trial of Sr. Dorothy's accused murderer .... I doubt that will be so, but at least let us keep an eye on it.


- Read more about Sr. Dorothy at the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur site


Blogger Liam said...

I understand that when they stopped her to kill her, she just knelt down and started reading her Bible.

How are you doing, Crystal? I have been very busy preparing for a conference, but I have stopped by the blog a few times without leaving comments.

11:10 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Liam, thanks for stopping by. I'm sort of quietly going crazy, although I think Kermit would disagree with the 'quiet' part. A conference on who should be king of Jerusalem? ... you have my vote :-)

11:35 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Bravo, Crys! Great post about a wonderful life and of stories that have been scandalously underreported.

I had never of heard of Chico Mendes before. Interesting that he was played by Raul Julia, who also played Oscar Romero on film. I’ll have to check out The Burning Season, thanks.

Most of my kids attend a school that has until very recently been run and staffed mainly by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The school motto still is founder Julie Billiart’s "Oh, qu'il est bon, le bon Dieu!"
("Oh, how good is the good God!") I’ll have to quiz them to find out if they are being taught about Sister Dorothy Stang.

Thanks again for this post.

1:08 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I liked learning about Sr. Dorothy - I hadn't heard of her before that earlier interview. Hadn't heard of Chico Mendes either . Edward James Olmos is in that movie too, I think. Did you see that there was a story in the NY Times about liberation theology?

3:37 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Yes, William called my attention to it.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard about Sr. Stang pretty much the same as you did... through coverage of the Pope's visit to Brazil.

I had never heard of this woman and wanted to know more about her. That's how I came across your blog... I have now done some research on this remarkable woman and she was quite amazing.


4:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Dave, thanks for your comment :-)

7:08 PM  

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