Sister Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur from Cincinnati, was assassinated on Saturday, February 12, 2005 in Anapu, Pará. Sister Dorothy was 74 years old and lived in Brazil for more than 30 years. She was a member of the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission and worked with the Association of Ecological Solidarity in the Amazon area.
At the time of her death, Sr. Dorothy was on her way to a meeting about a project of small scale sustainable agriculture in Boa Esperança (Good Hope), an area that had been granted to landless peasants by the federal government.
She was accompanied by two rural workers when she was shot and killed. The two witnesses who escaped are suffering death threats and three more people have been killed in the area since Saturday.
The judicial system in Pará has ordered the arrests of four suspects in the case: Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, the landowner who is accused of ordering the assassination, as well as three of his private security guards, two of whom carried out the assassination.
The town of Anapu, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, is the place where Sr. Dorothy worked in trying to protect the rainforest and its people from disastrous and often illegal exploitation by logging firms and ranchers.
The area is notorious for violence, crime, and slave labor. Greenpeace estimates that 90% of the timber in Pará is illegally logged. Pará also has the country’s highest rate of deaths related to land battles.
Just a few days before her death, Sister Dorothy had met Nilmário Miranda, the Brazilian Government’s Human Rights Secretary, and told him of the death threats that she and others had received and asked for the government’s help. According to Miranda, “She always asked for protection for others, never for herself.”
The missionary received a number of awards for her work, including the “Human Rights Award” from the Bar Association of Brazil on December 10, 2004.
She truly lived the mission statement of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Cincinnati to “take our stand with poor people, especially women and children, in the most abandoned places. Many manifestations against the nun’s assassination have occurred throughout the country.”
The Brazilian federal government sent 2,000 military troops from the army to the area to quell the tensions. According to Bishop Tomás Balduíno, the president of the Pastoral Land Commission, “the presence of the army is palliative. We do not think that this social problem will be resolved with a police or military base. The military dictatorship tried to do this.”
Joanne Blaney is the editor of Sejup.
SEJUP – Brazilian Service of Justice and Peace