In this episode, we follow the story of Sr Dorothy Stang, a sister of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
Warning: This episode contains audio reenactment of violence.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:3–6)
Sister Dorothy Stang was born in Dayton, Ohio. She entered the congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1948 and professed her final vows in 1956. For the first few years she was an elementary school teacher. In 1966, she began her ministry in Brazil.
“As the world discovered the vast possibilities offered by the rich natural resources of the Amazon rainforest, people with more limited and self-centered goals began to plan ways to capitalize upon them. Gradually, loggers, ranchers, land speculators, and agribusiness became the dominant forces in the region, victimizing the poorer farmers and destroying the rainforest…”
In Brazil, she worked with the Pastoral Land Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra – CPT), an organization that defends land reform while fighting for the rights of rural workers. Sr Dorothy spent nearly four decades in Brazil fighting for the rights of small farmers and the Amazon rainforest. She studied the country’s laws, barged into government offices to demand justice, and created organizations that would give small and rural farmers support against large corporations.
With her Bible as her weapon and faith as her strength, Sr Dorothy engaged in conversations and disagreements with brokers, government officials, and locals about the importance of the Amazon rainforest. Through the support of her congregation, the Pastoral Land Commission, and many others she was able to educate farmers about sustainable agriculture.
Sr Dorothy’s advocacy against deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and her support for rural and small farmers led to multiple threats against her. In the late 90s, Sr Dorothy’s name appeared on a “death list” created by the power brokers. As she became the prime target of powerful brokers, she nonetheless remained faithful to the Gospel and to her mission for she believed “The death of the forest is the end of our lives.”
On a rainy February 12th, 2005, Sr Dorothy walked along a dirt road to Boa Esperanca, where she was meeting with local farmers who were victims of illegal logging. On her journey there, two armed men stopped her and after exchanging a few words, six shots were fired. Sr Dorothy passed away at 73 years old.
The news of her death devastated many people around the world. Her funeral brought together two thousand people and multiple international reporters. As a result of her death, the President of Brazil, President Luis Inacio da Silva, announced that the land was reserved for sustainable development by poor farmers that lived in that area.
Sr Dorothy’s mission to save the rainforest and its people is one of courage, love, and determination. For her journey continues even though she is no longer with us.
Sr Dorothy Stang:
Pastoral Land Commission: