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The Patron Saint of “Caring for our Earth”

Director’s Reflection

Dear Companions on the Journey,

Ok, who is the patron saint of “caring for our earth, our ‘common home,’ as Pope Francis puts it?” St. Francis of Assisi?I nominate an American woman, a sister who deserves to be known better: Sr. Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.Let me tell you about her.

Born in 1931 in Dayton, Ohio, Dorothy was one of nine children.Early on she discerned both that she wanted to be a sister and that our Gracious God was calling her to be one.Typical of many, even a majority of sisters in the 1940s and 50s, Dorothy taught elementary school children. Then in 1966, she began her ministry in Brazil where she labored for more than four decades.

Dorothy’s time in Latin America coincided with that continent’s emerging self-awareness of the God of Liberation and the Church’s call to stand with, and work for, the poor. For Dorothy, this took the form of fighting for the rights of rural workers.She, along with other Church and indigenous leaders, defended land reforms in Brazil. Then, as now, to stand with the poor and disenfranchised was to put oneself into harm’s way. Indeed, less than a week after she met with Brazil’s human rights officials about threats to local farms from loggers and landowners in the Amazon region, she was murdered on February 12, 2005.

Dorothy was a perfect example of working both for the land, the rainforest, and for the poor.As she said when warned to get out of Brazil:

I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest. They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.

Even before her death, Dorothy received much recognition for her effective and courageous work for the peoples and the land.These including being named “Woman of the Year” by the state of Para and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Brazilian Bar Association.After her martyrdom, her religious community set up the Sr. Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California.

Other Dorothy Stang quotes:

The death of the forest is the end of our life.

There are things you do because they feel right and they make no sense and they make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other (and to eat each other’s cooking) and to say it was good!

Peasant people…don’t have a chance to share in the riches that the planet can offer because some people are taking off so much of the pleasures of this world and there’s only so much to go around.

What do you think?
And let us pray for one another,
Michael McGarry, C.S.P.