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Irmã Dorothy, a life given for Amazonia

At dawn on 12 February 2005, two hired assassins, on a dirt track of the settlement of Boa Esperanca in the heart of the Amazon forest in the State of Parà, killed Sr Dorothy Stang, taking her life with six pistol shots. Passages from the Beatitudes read aloud while the assassins approached her were to no avail: Irmã [Sr] Dorothy, 73 years old, was shot to death. Her body lay for hours in a pool of blood and mud, under heavy rain, awaiting the arrival of the police.

Of American origin, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Namur, Dorothy was aware that she was risking her life: her only fault was to have become a reference point for so many families at the mercy of important financial interests which unscrupulously and violently were disputing every single metre of that land. She was threatened by traffickers in timber, landowners and industrialists, in one of the Brazilian States where the violence against defenceless farmers and the impunity of the assailants is the worst. Sr Dorothy would repeat: “I shall not escape nor abandon my fight for these farmers, who live without protection in the midst of the forest. They have the sacred right to a better life, on land where they can live and produce their crops with dignity, in peace and without destruction”.

An authentic representative of an outgoing Church, of a synodal Church in her listening to the voices of all, of a Church which opts to be a field hospital, fighting on the side of the oppressed, Sr Dorothy was struggling for the implementation of the Project for Sustainable Development, which guaranteed the lives and stability of the families of farmers in the commune of Anapu: focused on the protection of family farming, the project permitted a harmonious coexistence between human beings and the forest, preventing the advance of the brutal deforestation imposed by profit-making monocultures.

A humble and supportive presence, the first to venture into those remote and inaccessible areas, Sr Dorothy taught to the women of poor and isolated Amazon settlements accounting, social rights, public policies on health care, on motherhood and on sexuality, so that they might learn to fight and defend themselves on their own. Along with these subjects she gave them the life-giving word of a Bible in which women appeared as decisive Protagonists in the cause of liberation, chosen by God.

Fourteen years and ten days after the morning on which she was assassinated, after a series of legal vicissitudes due to the excessive power of the important landowners able to obstruct justice, Reginald Pereira Galvao was condemned to 30 years of imprisonment. It was he who had provided guns to the killers of Dorothy Stang, martyr of the Amazon.

Elena Buia Rutt

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