Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Amazon Warrior: Even Unto Death, Dorothy Stang Had No Fear in Her Fight for the Poor and the Rain Forest, and Her Example Inspires Us to Join the Battle

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Amazon Warrior: Even Unto Death, Dorothy Stang Had No Fear in Her Fight for the Poor and the Rain Forest, and Her Example Inspires Us to Join the Battle

Article excerpt

JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I'D OUTGROWN MENTORS, A FRIEND introduced me to David Stang. His enthusiasm for his favorite subject, his sister Dorothy, is contagious.

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"She whacked me around as a Kid, he admits. "A tomboy, she played the best football in the family." That tenacity carried Dorothy Stang through the Amazon, where she was a feisty defender of the poor and the rain forest. After her death, Stang continues to be a role model in the arenas of the environment, aging, and women's roles in the church.

Her story has the attributes of heroic legend, so let's tell it that way. First, the setting. In Brazil less than 3 percent of the population owns two thirds of arable land. When the government gives land to displaced farmworkers, loggers and ranchers burn their poor settlements, sell the valuable timber, and graze cattle (to supply our McDonald's!). The resulting loss of the rain forest is tragic: It contains 30 percent of the world's biodiversity. Some call it "the lungs of the planet," and as it shrinks, global warming increases.

It's hard to imagine a place more distant from Brazil than Dayton, Ohio. Young Doro thy lives here, her backyard a model of organic gardening where she learns composting and the dangers of pesticides. In 1948 she joins the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and becomes a teacher. Rather than becoming a benevolent nun who dies of old age in a quiet convent, this is where her story gets interesting.

OUR HEROINE VOLUNTEERS FOR BRAZIL WHEN HER ORDER CALLS for missionaries. She accompanies families to Para, a state bordering the rain forest, to defend their land. Stang organizes people into cooperatives: They learn crop rotation, read the Bible, and worship with music and dance. Because priests are scarce, she becomes their shepherd.

When her people are attacked, she tells them brusquely, "Quit crying; start rebuilding!" Her old VW Beetle wobbles over bridges with rotting planks--where David makes a nervous sign of the cross. Stang takes the peoples' case to the government. When officials deny receiving her letters, she finds them in their files. Persistenty she asks for protection of poor farmers, but nothing is done.

Amazingly, she keeps this up for 38 years. Stang starts fruit orchards with women and projects for sustainable development with 1,200 people. The Brazilian Bar Association names her "Humanitarian of the Year" in 2004.

Enter the villains. The ranchers hire gunmen who shoot her to death on Feb. 12, 2005. Seeing the gun, Stang doesn't run or plead for her life, as most folks would. …

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