Reflecting on the amazing life of Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN: Martyr of the Amazon
Sisters Susan Dinnin, Patty Wallace and Arrianne Whittaker recently attended the one-woman play “Rooted in Love: The Life and Martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN,” performed by Adrian Dominican, Sister Nancy Murray, on the 10th anniversary of Sister Dorothy’s death.
Dorothy Stang, born in Ohio, decided early on that she would give her life to God as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. Her deepest desire was to serve the poor as a missionary.
On her application she wrote, “I want to be a missionary in China.” That was not to be, but in 1966, Sister Dorothy went on mission to Brazil. She lived as the poor lived, with a dirt floor, without plumbing or electricity, and ministered in the Amazon rainforest promoting sustainable farming.
Due to the rich resources of the rainforest, gradually, loggers, ranchers, land speculators, and agribusiness became the dominant forces in the region, victimizing the poorer farmers and destroying the rainforest.
Sister Dorothy’s untiring, ceaseless dedication to protecting the land from mindless logging and deforestation brought a series of death threats before her murder in 2005. One of those threats came at a restaurant when her brother and sister-in-law were visiting her. Absolutely horror-stricken, they wanted her to get to safety, but Sister Dorothy was fearless. A woman of strong conviction and astounding courage, Sister Dorothy continued to speak for justice despite threats on her life.
Her work with the Pastoral Land Commission work, an organization of the Catholic Church that fights for the rights of rural workers and peasants, and defends land reforms in Brazil, was seen as a serious threat. Her death came less than a week after meeting with the country’s human rights officials about threats to local farmers from loggers and landowners.
At Dorothy’s funeral, one settler remarked, “It’s all right, Sister Dorothy. We’re not burying you. We’re planting a seed.”
Following Sister Dorothy’s death, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva put nearly 20,000 of the Amazon’s 1.6 million square miles under federal environmental protection. This land is located in the Anapu region that was Sister Dorothy’s home.
I asked Sisters Susan, Patty and Arrianne about how the play inspired or challenged them. The following are their responses.
We were deeply and powerfully inspired by Sister Dorothy’s life. She was totally one with the poor, not only in her ministry, but in her lifestyle, living as they lived. Furthermore, she didn’t just do things for those she served, but helped them to find their own voice against injustice. Her compassion was a compassion that would be satisfied only when justice prevailed in the rainforest and human rights were respected.
This puts in perspective those petty things we might allow to get us down. While speaking courageously to such overwhelming injustice and knowing her life was in danger, she still lived with an amazing spirit of joy in life. How does one transform that much negative energy and chaos into such joy?
Was this her prayer-life, connection with God who is LOVE that enabled her to withstand such chaos and to carry the cross with such joy?
Her life calls us all to be more deeply dedicated to standing with the poor, to be aware of and stand with the poor in whatever ministry we do. We all have the ability to be that prophetic person.
These are several books about Sister Dorothy Stang, as well as a wonderful power point and other resources.
Dorothy was willing to pay the price. I hope we all can be.