Sister Dorothy Stang, SND, set out on the morning of February 12, 2005 to continue her work in Brazil. Concerned not only by the destruction of the rain forest, but also deeply concerned about the destruction of human lives, she spent 40 years living and working in that part of the world. In her eyes, every tree that was cut down changed the life of a local person living in these remote areas. Their lives were not changed for the better as their homes and livelihoods were destroyed. Sister Dorothy worked to create small base communities where residents would become self-sufficient and where the rainforest could be preserved in spite of the others who wanted the land for their own use.
Her actions inspired the anger of the logging industry and those who cared more for profits than for people, those who were interested in their earnings more than they cared for the earth. Although she had requested protection from the Brazilian government, none came, despite her name being on death lists. Threats, intimidation, and violence were the tools of those in power, intending to frighten anyone who tried to stop them. Her work was tireless and fearless in pushing back with every fiber of her being.
On this day Sister Dorothy walked along yet another dirt road to do her work focused on God’s people and God’s earth. She was approached by two gunmen, so she took out her Bible and began to read the Beatitudes aloud.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Six shots pierced her body, her Bible falling from her hands, her blood pouring from her wounds, her body falling into the dirt as the men fled. As a result of her death, certain lands were designated as environmentally safe, under Brazilian federal protection. The offering of her life brought forth something that she worked boldly and tirelessly for in that region.
After several trials, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, a Brazilian rancher was convicted of engineering her murder. Rayfran das Neves Sales, Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, and Amair Feijoli were also implicated and convicted in her assassination.
While the struggle in Brazil continues, the work goes on and Sister Dorothy Stang is never forgotten. What will you do today to help preserve and protect human lives and the goodness of God’s creation? This is the question that should guide our lives. As we discern and act, may we remember Sister Dorothy and so many nameless others who have died in service of God’s work. In our actions, each small step and commitment, however minor it may seem, can change the life of another. Even not using a straw in your drink can have an impact. May we remember Sister Dorothy and ask for her intercession as we make our choices today, and every day.
Here is the trailer for a film about Sister Dorothy and her work.