On International Human Rights Day 2008, the United Nation honors several peace activists and groups, including Sr. Dorothy Stang, SND.
I want to highlight the work and courage of Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur — the same order of Catholic sisters who operate the AmeriCorps program in which my husband and I served — Notre Dame Mission Volunteers AmeriCorps.
Sr. Dorothy was born in the United States and became a naturalized citizen of Brazil. According to the U.N. announcement, “Despite numerous death threats Sister Dorothy had defended the rights of the poor, landless and indigenous populations of the Anapu region of Brazil for nearly forty years.”
Her brother David Stang published this story in Maryknoll magazine a few months after her death:
Dorothy was murdered for her outspoken defense of peasant farm families, who had moved into the rain forest region in a government-sponsored resettlement plan. Besides forming each settlement into small Christian communities that prayed and studied the Bible together, Dorothy established agricultural and rain forest preservation projects. Her initiatives outraged the big landowners who wanted the forest for logging and the land for cattle grazing.
The day before she died, Dorothy telephoned me. “Just hearing your voice,” she said, “makes me feel the cool fresh air of Palmer Lake (where I live in Colorado), even though it is so hot and humid here in Anapú (where she worked).” Then she told me, “I can’t talk long because there are people outside my door, asking me to go down the road with them to show support for several poor families who had their crops and houses burned down by hired hoodlums.”
Armed with her Bible and government documents granting peasants rights to the land, she accompanied the people to the Bõa Esperança Settlement near the rural town of Anapú in Pará State. Confronted by Dorothy, the pistoleros, backed off this time. When my sister returned the next day with clothes and food for the homeless families, the fatal confrontation took place.
See the trailer for the documentary They Killed Sister Dorothy:
Other Human Rights Prize honorees this year include Human Rights Watch and assassinated, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Read about others who’ve won the 2008 prize. Read more about the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights and International Human Rights Day.
Notre Dame Mission AmeriCorps Volunteers is a national AmeriCorps program with service sites in 16 U.S. cities. My loving and amazing aunt Sr. Anne Colette, SND, introduced me to the program and sent me its newsletters, even as I was starting my term of Peace Corps service. I ultimately chose to apply for NDMVA — to work with immigrants and refugees in Lowell, MA — as a transition home from Peace Corps. Read more about the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.