Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Modern martyrs for each day of Holy Week (Holy Tuesday, Sister Dorothy Stang,SND, martyred on the 12th of February, 2005)

Sister Dorothy Stang lived among the poorest of the poor, though she also lived side by side with those who wanted her dead on account of that. When her killers finally came for her she read passages from the Bible to them. They listened for a moment, then fired. Her body was found face down in the mud, blood staining the back of her white blouse.

The town of Anapu, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, is most notable for the dust that clogs its streets and for the number of shops selling chain - saws. It is also the place that Sister Dorothy called home for more than 30 years and where she organized her efforts to try to protect the rainforest and its people from disastrous and often illegal exploitation by logging firms and ranchers. Now Anapu will be known as the place where Sister Dorothy is buried.

The 74-year-old activist was laid to rest on the morning of the 14th of February 2005, after being assassinated by two gunmen at a remote encampment in the jungle about 30 miles from the town. Sister Dorothy - the most prominent activist to be murdered in the Amazon since Chico Mendez in 1988 - was shot six times in the head, throat and body at close range. "She was on a list of people marked for death. And little by little they're ticking those names off the list," said Nilde Sousa, an official with a local women's group who worked with the nun.

As with the death of Mr Mendez, the murder of Sister Dorothy has triggered waves of outrage among environmental and human rights activists who say she dedicated her life to helping the area's poor, landless peasants and confronting the businesses that see the rainforest only as a resource to be plundered and which have already destroyed 20 per cent of its 1.6 million square miles.

Sister Dorothy was in the Boa Esperanca settlement when she was killed. She was traveling with two peasants to a meeting to discuss a settlement for the area, which has apparently been granted to peasants by the federal government but which is sought by loggers. The two men traveling with her escaped unhurt.

Sister Dorothy was originally from Dayton, Ohio, where she attended Julienne High School. It was while she was a student that she decided to become a nun and when she left school she joined the convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Cincinnati. The order, founded in France in the early 18th century by Marie Rose Julie Billiart, is an proponent of liberation theology and social justice. Its mission statement dedicates the order to "take our stand with poor people especially women and children, in the most abandoned places".

Her beliefs took her to Brazil in the 1960s and it was there, in the vast Para region, which encompasses large tracts of rainforest, that she found her calling - despite the obvious dangers she faced. Just two weeks ago, Sister Dorothy met the country’s human rights secretary, and told him of the death threats that she and others had received and asked for the government's help and protection.

Sister Elizabeth Bowyer, a senior nun at the Cincinnati convent, said yesterday that she believed Sister Dorothy may have realized she was going to be killed at some point even though she told her friends and colleagues that her status as a nun would offer a level of protection. "She knew she was on the death list. She said she would be protected because of her age and because she was a nun - she was wrong," she said. "We don't know who hired the gunmen but we know the loggers and ranchers were very upset by what she was doing. She was working with the human rights people to protect the small farmers who have been given the right to the land."

In her native Ohio she was remembered at a series of services which recalled her dedication and courage. "Sister Dorothy in her ministering to the poor remained faithful. We honor those who die for their faith," said Father Dennis Caylor, pastor at St Rafael church in the suburb of Springfield.

By Andrew Buncombe, in The Independent, UK, February 15, 2005.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)