Sister Dorothy Stang

Guest Post: Cherished Childhood Memories of Martyr Dorothy Stang

My friend David Stang shares cherished childhood memories of his sister Dorothy Stang,  "Angel of the Amazon" who was murdered in 2005 for standing up to the rapacious landlords of the Brazilian Amazon, She was a graduate of the University of Creation Spirituality; she is now being considered for sainthood as a martyr and model of sanctity.


Early Family Experiences of Dorothy Stang and Creation Spirituality

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By David Stang

The noise that shook the house was a unusual summer  thunderstorm in Dayton Ohio. The lightning flashed across the afternoon sky, bright  and pervasive. Then came the loud thunder that shook the old one hundred year home.

The big wooden house shook to its foundations. We could now see the  vibrant maple trees outside due to the enormous lightning. The trees were bright and green, with their big maple leaves waving with the winds. The flashing, lightning enhanced the visual effects of the trees. The outside rain quite visible. Again and again, the house shook.

We young ones could not deny the power of nature around us and it affected our very breathing and emotions as we huddled inside the house. The storm, lightning, rain, lasted for hours. We knew to the depth of our being who was in charge of our environment. It was not us.

As the time moved on we soon began to see candles being  lit around the house, especially by the Virgin statues that Mom so loved. After the candles were lit by our Mom we saw her lay on the floor with her arms out and breathing slowly and at peace. We too felt the power of peace with our Mom’s presence.

During that period of time, we wondered how to rate what was most important, the candles, the statues, the thunderstorm, lightning, or the shaking of the house, or Mom. We could not deny the power of the shaking of the house, or the noise, or the pounding of the rain on the roof.  We could definitely feel the incredible power of nature. This power we never forgot as it entered deeper and deeper into our consciousness.

We had heard enough stories about the Irish goblins and faeries from our Mom to know that they existed, so we always wondered if that also we could add to the candles and the statues that  fit in to Mom’s  life,  and was this a different way of feeling and knowing about life. Such thoughts were never taught in school or in our catholic catechism.  

Whatever, Mom lying on the floor with her arms out, breathing peacefully had its own effect on us. After all there we were seven of us, our two older brother were no longer in the house, who were protected by Mom during this extravaganza of nature.

We however, also began to trust Nature as when the storm was over and we went outside, we could smell the energy of the incredible air, see the fresh energized ground, the new power of the trees, and our garden looking fresh and alive. The vegetables in the garden seemed empowered, enlivened by the incredible event of nature and the energized water.

The thunderstorm did overwhelm us for those past couple of  hours but our house was still standing, even though during these storms we could hear the fire trucks in the distance and hear about this or that house, or this or that garage had burned down.  We were however safe, secure and ready for the next storm and candles and Mom lying on the floor. We were appreciative of the food growing in our garden.

We young ones not only lived to even enjoy and feel the energy of the storms but were pushed outside to be with all the wonder and awe that existed outside. We were outside a lot.  We at young ages, jumped on the back of Mummas Farm trucks at 7AM to ride to the farms to pick berries, weed the land, and make a dime to help support each other during the depression. We knew what a sunburn was and suntans. We knew how to protect our backs, protect each other from strangers and behave.

We all had nice tans and good appetites even though the strawberries at Mummas were excellent, with no pesticides, we knew we needed more than fruit, though at autumn time the apples, apple juice was a taste we never forgot. Arriving back home from Mummas, we would go to our own garden to weed it and eat the green onions, carrots, radishes, green beans  and we even had a pear tree and walnut tree.

Mom would be inside preparing supper for seven of us and of course she and Dad were organic farmers (even though in those days was there any other way to farm?) and the food was healthy and none of us had health problems, such as cancer or muscle or other health issues that existed at the time. We did know that there was the existence of city people but felt excluded as we were different, with our hand me down clothes, shoes, and interests.

 Dad was a scientist who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Such a job and his skills kept us from starvation and living on the streets. He must have been good because he was never fired, even though he had the reputation to speak out strongly for his belief in the protection of Nature and against the chemicals that were beginning to appear in our foods.

Dad was a chemical engineer who believed in the organic route and regulating the chemicals that were just being invented. He took on the leadership of Montsanto that was just beginning to develop its corporation in St. Louis and Dayton Ohio. In fact he was even offered a job with Monsanto, as one of the leaders was a Catholic graduate from the same school.  

Dad would often take us on walks and educate us about what mushrooms we could or could not eat, where to find them and also about the animal kingdom that existed in our area which area was called Miami Valley. I only learned later in life that my twin brother and I were born during the time of the enormous floods in Dayton that almost destroyed the city, a city which was thriving at the time with many engineers, scientists, and inventors.

The Wright Brothers had their bicycle shop in Dayton and of course National Cash Register, General Electric, Frigidaire, and the Big Wright Patterson Air Force Base was thriving in Dayton.  A side story for those who remember, that a UFO landed in New Mexico in the 40’s. It was announced even on the radio which we all heard, and the alien bodies were sent to Wright Patterson where our Dad worked in the Analytical Laboratory where the bodies were supposedly sent.  Oh, the memories and stories of our youth.

How can one forget Winter. We did not have double paned windows or insulation in our walls. We did have heavy blankets and heavy clothes. We slept well under those wool blankets and I even remember snow on our faces one night because, of course my twin brother broke the window near our bed and Dad would not fix it immediately, perhaps to teach us a lesson.  

Mom was a sharp buyer when it came to good clothing for winter. I do not remember any of us ever having frost bite. But we loved winter and we did not need to be told to go outside. You can imagine if we preferred to stay inside how we would have driven each other crazy.

We all had hand me down ice skates, well worn skiis, though the hills were small and so we rarely used them. More importantly we had the old sleds with metal runners that could hold four or five of us and lots of children around the neighborhood and a couple good hills. We did not suffer from not having other kids to play with.

Not too far away, maybe two miles was the Miami River. During the forties the weather was colder and the river often froze over. Sometimes we could even ice skate all the way down from our house to the river. We became good ice skaters and knew how to judge the safety of the ice. We can still remember skating on black ice as it went up and down as you skated on it. Even though periodically we would hear of someone drowning in the river, this never happened to any of us as we were good judges of ice. 

At night the people who lived near the river would put on their back porch lights for us to see and even make us hot chocolate. Feeling the warm chocolate in our tummies, and the snow on our faces and the blades on the ice, for us this was heaven. I could be having forgetfulness, but I do not remember any of us complaining about the cold or not wanting to be outside. Life was full of awe and wonder for us as only children can feel such wonder.

Summer was just as wonder filled season as winter. Besides, working on the fruit farm, we were known as the Stang Gang and we challenged all the neighbors in football, baseball, and basketball.

The best players in our family of course were the girls, especially Dorothy and Norma. When the teams were chosen, Dorothy and Norma were the ones that chose the teams. The boys in the neighborhood highly respected these two girls. Also, Tom and I never had to worry about any bullies in the neighborhood hurting us.

One time as we were coming home from school a couple boys challenged Tom and I. Oh, what a mistake. Quickly two of my sisters showed up and tackled the two of the boys, the other boys ran away and the two boys on the ground quickly surrendered. I only remembered this happening once.

I am sure I could remember other stories but perhaps this gives one a picture of our early childhood. With such memories, as we get old, they become so important.

But more importantly this helps us understand the strength of our sister Dorothy who was not afraid to take on the bullies in the Amazon and was not afraid when they put a price on her head and who said, “I will not run away from my family” when she was offered the chance to move on.

Creation Spirituality was an essential part of our lives from childhood. Dorothy going to the Amazon was just another amazing part of her being with nature with the diversity of creation.

Dorothy’s time spent with Matthew Fox in California studying Creation Spirituality was an incredible experience as it confirmed her beauty as a woman, as a nature filled being, and that there were other great women who felt like her over the centuries.

Dorothy saying “I cannot leave my family,” included the forest, the animals and her relationship with all of life that existed around her. Spirituality is not whole when we exclude such thinking and people from our existence.

Memories of Sister Dorothy Stang and her Art

Sister Dorothy Stang, S.N.D.N., who returned to the Amazon rainforest on graduating from the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College, was a leader among her peasant people in standing up to privileged land owners on behalf of rural workers and in defending the Amazon rainforest. We remember her with love and honor her as our first martyr.

This article by Sharon Abercrombie was published in the National Catholic Reporter on February 12, 2015, the 10th anniversary of her death. It celebrates her exuberance, and her passion for prayer through the arts.

Painting, dancing were Sr. Dorothy Stang's lesser-known passions

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang in her dorm room in 1992 at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names University, in Oakland, Calif. (Sharon Abercrombie)

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang in her dorm room in 1992 at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names University, in Oakland, Calif. (Sharon Abercrombie)

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang’s persistent activism on behalf of Brazil’s poor and the earth is well known to environmental and social justice activists throughout the world. Thursday marks the 10-year anniversary of her death at the hands of hired guns.

We know from her twin brothers, Dave and Tom Stang, that she would often convince female security guards to allow her to camp out on the floor of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice the night before she was due to testify at public meetings.

We know that if an official denied having received one of her letters, this delightfully outrageous Cincinnati sister would walk to the politico’s filing cabinet, and much to his embarrassment, whip out the document.

Not so well known, perhaps, is Rainforest Dot’s love for painting and dancing.....

(read more...)

HOPE IS ETERNAL IN THE MIDST OF DARKNESS

This memorial essay was written by David Stang, brother to martyred activist Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDN. Reprinted with the author's permission.

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall:  https://www.facebook.com/RabbitRoomArts/  Used with permission from FutureChurch  https://futurechurch.org  No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch.    

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall: https://www.facebook.com/RabbitRoomArts/
Used with permission from FutureChurch https://futurechurch.org
No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch. 

 

OnFebruary 11, 2005 Dorothy Stang called Colorado to talk and she said, “I cannot leave my family in Esperanza. I know that Luis and his family have just had their house burnt down, their crops destroyed and his wife and children are out in the Amazon forest with no food, blankets, or protection of any kind and there are others who are very afraid nearby. Can a Mother leave her children in such need,” she said?  I wanted to tell my sister over the phone, please don’t go to Esperanza.

“David,  she continued to talk, I am on my way to Esperanza, now,  with food, clothing, hammers, nail, saws.  For one minute though David I can smell the cool air of Palmer Lake Colorado where you live, and say hello to you. It is very hot here, humid and it is raining. I stopped at the police post to ask for assistance as there are killers where I am going but the Police  refused to help me. Thugs  have just burnt down Luis’s home and they are terrorizing the people who merely want to survive and maybe even enter into the economy of their country. The Government has approved this Project of Sustainable Development where Luis just had his house burnt down by the local Ranchers, Plantation Owners, and their armed thugs who believe they are the government. I am going to Esperanza, to show support, maybe protection and help them, though this terrible  time,  however this time I am a little nervous.” Again, I wanted to say please don’t go. Now, I am trying to pull myself together with this disconcerting  phone call as it is 4AM here in Colorado.  I could still hear the people outside Dorothy’s house laughing and joking. “ The next day Dorothy was murdered. Six shots were fired at her, at close range and all of them hit her, a 73 unarmed woman who was a known protector of the poor.

 A week after Dorothy’s murder I flew to Anapu and visited Esperanza, sat and cried at the spot where she was murdered, sat and cried at the spot where she wasburied , deep in the Amazon, surrounded by nature, beautiful trees,  falling rain, humidity, singing birds, the dirt, mud  and the people. I was surrounded most especially by the poor who hugged me, touched my t-shirt with Dorothy’s picture on the front of the shirt. They all cried, but most of all, I saw unbelief in their eyes that this person who for years fought for them, ate with them, slept with them, how  could she be murdered, they thought. She had often escaped death, prison, hunger,  and stood with them, a warrior, fearless, undaunted. She would often show up with legal documents from Belem or Brazilia, documents  to protect their homes and land. She was known to all of them, to not only fight for them personally, but also for their schools. Schools which  from the beginning she personally helped build,  over thirty schools. She would often see that their teachers were paid and even developed teacher training centers. However,  I cannot forget the local Brazilian priest, who slept at Dorothy’s grave for a week, to protect her grave from being desecrated by the local ranchers who hated her. He left her grave only after the Federal Government sent troops to protect the people and Dorothy’s grave. His hug was a greatly appreciated.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

 As I sat in the Bishops pick up truck with soldiers in the back for protection, driving from Anapu to Esperanza, I was stunned to watch the driver handle the muddy road, slide down the hill and just stop right before the wet log bridge and wonder how we would cross over. The driver was  telling everyone to get out and walk over. As we slipped on the wet logs, looking at the raging river down below, we wondered how he was going to cross over with the Bishops pick up. Staring intently we watched the driver make the sign ofthe cross, put the metal to the petal and sped over the narrow wet bridge, the tail end weaving back and forth. Truly this was a marvel of driving. I thought to myself how did Dorothy a week earlier make it to Esperanza   in a tiny car during the rainy season, for we had four harrowing bridges to cross over, deep mud, and hills and valleys to climb and slide down, hoping not to slide into the river itself.  The 20 miles from Anapu to Esperanza took four hours.  I kept repeating to myself during this drive, Dots powerful  message, “I cannot leave my family.” A message so powerful it overcame the enormous struggles that I was seeing before my very eyes. Tears came to my eyes, thinking, like the people, how could they kill her, however, still  remembering Dot telling me that there were hundreds of leaders, farmers, who have been killed in the area just in the last couple of years.  As I slept in Dot’s bed that night, on the walls were pictures of those who have been murdered. On the night stand was a little shrine that she made and on the wall, next to the door, was a piece of bamboo, slit in the middle, and carved out of this bamboo was the Christmas crib set that she would touch every morning when she left her room.  Can we wonder if we would have staid true under such horrific circumstances, and knowing that many people already had been murdered? Can we not ask what strength it took for Dorothy to stay with the poor.

I mention all this to set the stage for the important question, “what happens now” in this great forest that the world needs, for   such corruption and violence does not just disappear. Over the next ten years, after 9 trials and only four people being indicted by the State of Para, the killers are after less than ten years  now free. Even one of them has been indicted again for another killing. The big rancher Regivaldo appealed his verdict of 30 years in jail, to the High Court of Brazil, and he won his appeal. For years now , he is free on appeal, even though the judge of theCourt of the State of Para clearly stated, “ Regivaldo even if you appeal, you must stay in jail during the appeal.” W e all remember  In a packed courtroom, at the trial of Regivaldo,  with one of the now free killers sitting right in the courtroom with us and with his thug friends. We all heard the verdict to Regivaldo from the Judge saying, “You will stay in jail, if you appeal.”  The Judge during the trial brought in extra policemen to protect us, as the courtroom were full of Regivaldos powerful friends. I am sure the last thing the Judge wanted wasto have  murders in his courtroom. As we left the courtroom, we sawone of the TV broadcasters  surrounded by security, for she had just been threatened by a motorcycle gang, supporters of Regivaldo, who we were told were  going to escort Regivaldo  home free. They were angry that he had been indicted.  Obviously, the trials were merely a small part of what was and is happening in and to the Amazon. We must remember that there were many others involved in Dorothy’s murder and many of the other murders of the farmers in the Amazon, all free.

As we move on to today, one does ask, who controls the Amazon today? . For example, there is a new law allowing  cutting down illegally the trees in the Amazon,  and that all who cut down trees illegally in the Amazon in the past  have been legally forgiven. Sucha horrendous law helps me to  remember one of the people who worked for years in the Amazon saying to me during the trials, David, “these trials of Dorothy’s killers are merely a distraction from worse things that will happen. ” One wonders if any good behaviors remain of all the work that Dorothy and the people did. We do hear that, the two Projects of Sustainable Development, that Dorothy and the people worked so hard to create are thriving, and others farmers are uniting to demand, their rights to own their land, seeing that the projects were able to persevere why can’t they fight for their rights. The schools are still open. The special school to educate future farmers, is still open. The seed of Human Rights planted by all those who have been murdered are growing and the memory of Dorothy and all those warriors for the people in the Amazon are still remembered even, in the midst of enormous oppression such as  pisteleiros are still haunting the forest,  and hundreds of years of  tradition that supports these  Injustices continue, so one wonders how things can possibly go forward?  Is it not the blood of those who gave their lives that keeps hope alive? Is it not those who still continue to fight for their rights that give us hope?

Changing long term habits of oppression can be so difficult. Dorothy knew very clearly the long history of oppression that she was up against and that she did as much as she did is clearly a miracle in itself.  There is a saying that, “ We must know History or we will certainly repeat it”. This we must know in order to understand why there are so many murders in the Amazon, among Indigenous People, among the poor. Historians tell us,  “When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani Island, he performed a ceremony to take “possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of WesternChristendom. Although the story of Columbus’ “discovery” has taken on mythological proportions in most of the Western World, few people are aware that his act of “possession” was based on a religious doctrine now known in history as the “ Doctrine of Discovery”. Even fewer people realize that today five centuries later, the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo Christian, Doctrine of Discovery” to deny the rights of Native American Indians, to their lands. This Doctrine pervades the thinking of the rich and powerful in Brazil.

Why do I bring this document before us? The Plantations Owners, Ranchers, in Brazil still feel they have the same right of discovery, even if people live on the land they are claiming. Governments are vital to overcoming this long habit of Discovery. Dorothy was very involved with the Government of Brazil on so many levels, Education, Land, Freedom, to change this horrendous memory of the, “Law of Discovery.”  As the Federal Prosecutor of Land in the Amazon said in the Courtroom, “She did what we were afraid to do, she encouraged us to do our job.” The stories of Dorothy going to Brazilia or to Belem to help people get legal documents to protect their ownership of land  is well known. In 2005, when I went to see the Minister of Justice, I was stopped at securityat the Justice Building entrance. The security person who stopped me looked at meand said, “ I recognize you she said, you look like your sister Dorothy. I am the one who would give her permission to sleep in the hallway all night so she would be at the officer’s door when he arrived the next morning to do his job and Dorothy would get legal documents to help her people.” I saw a look of pride in her eyes as she spoke. Hopefully, this pride  is the future of Brazil, of the Amazon.

David Stang

Feb. 15, 2017

 

 

On the 14th Anniversary of Sister Dorothy Stang's Martyrdom: A Memory

Dorothy Stang: Anapu: The Amazon

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(A letter from her brother, David Stang, two months before her martyrdom in the Amazon; shared with permission.)

December 6, 2004,  Marguerite Hohm and I traveled to Belem Brazil to visit our amazing Amazonian sister who will be receiving a Human Right’s Award. Winding our way through airports in Miami, Sao Paulo and landing in Belem challenged Marguerite who is in her seventies and I in my late sixties. Wethen landed in a very hot and humid city of Belem over twenty four hours later which was also a shock to our bodies as we left the States in the middle of winter. However, to our joy we saw Dot jumping up and down in the back of a great crowd with hergreat smiling face.

Sitting with Dot we quickly realized our sister  is at the center of a human right’s  storm of protecting farmers and their land and the great Amazon forest which is one of the great lungs of the world and filled with herbs, animals, people (over 22 million) and future pharmaceutical, healing products. For thirty years Dorothy has been living and working in this amazing forest. She has been working with the homeless, who are coming to this area in the millions, often standing at the bus station in Anapu to help the impoverished immigrants and their families, coming from the Brazilian cities, with food and a place to stay.

 Dorothy who was trained by her father an organic father, was now and has  been training for over twenty years,  the homeless how to live in this forest and survive and sustain the forest. Dorothy also an educator for years before coming to Anapu,  now used her talents to read the Brazilian laws available in protecting the Forest, the rights of people and the way to own land. Against this intelligent, very spiritual Warrior has been the wealthy illegal landowners and illegal loggers and many corrupt powerful people who have made billions off this very valuable forest, e.g. one tree could bring in a $100.000. These powerful people just come with their guns and their goons and forcibly remove people who legally own the land or they just kill them. The State of Para where Dorothy lives is known in Brazil as lawless and dangerous. There are also many good people, Sisters, government people, parts of the Hierarchy, who want Dorothy to be not so politically involved. The issue has become so volatile for Dorothy because the forest is being rapidly destroyed that now her life is being threatened with a known price on herhead which is a sign to the people that she will be killed. Almost a thousand people who have tried to help the farmers maintain their land in Brazil have been killed in the last ten years.

We went to see Dorothy because she was to receive a Human Right’s Award from the National Organization of Brazilian Lawyers. Human Rights Associations, Educational Organizations, Senators and Legislators who all are realizing the vital importance and necessity of the Amazon Forest were going to be present for this important Awards ceremony..

Being present  opened Marguerite’s and my eyes to what an important issue land and life is in Para and how now  Dorothy is at the center of this issue. We saw her being interviewd on several T.V. stations and by several major newspapers in this city of over two million people. Being present was one enormous education for the two of us. Important people, senators, legislators, judges, lawyers, newspaper reporters and most important the poor were greeting and looking at this 73 year old white haired, soft spoken, sister who has been awarded Brazilian citizenship, with hope, respect and love. One cannot judge the true worth of someone without traveling and seeing with your own eyes. Marguerite and I were honored to be with Dorothy who is now so recognized by Brazil and the Brazilian people. We now realized that  she is a vital person to the life of these people and to the life of the amazon forest.  We now were being told by Dorothy that millions of homeless Brazilians are looking at this huge forest for life. We were being told that Dorothy has the respect and plans to help the homeless live and sustain this forest; that the Brazilian government sees Dorothy as honest, wise, with a plan that is proven for over twenty years; that Dorothy is in the front line of this fight.

There was a large candlelight procession outside in the courtyard which then moved into the Lawyers large auditorium. Many of the people were very simple uneducated farmers, dressed very simply with their worn out sandals on their feet. As we entered, there were Lawyers with their mouths wide open as they had never seen such people in this beautiful building. We quickly realized that Brazil has deep European Elitism and these people coming with us into the auditorium were not from the upper class.

The packed auditorium with people standing in the aisles and out the door quickly overcame their shyness of being in such a sumptuous place and began to cheer and shout for joy and support of Dorothy. Dorothy brought Marguerite and I up to the podium saying “you now can see that I too have blood family, like you”. When the ceremony was over many people came up to touch Dorothy with great tenderness.

We were being told by people in the audience that they know that Dorothy will be killed. Some government people and others came up and whispered in Dorothy’s ear, “be careful for we have had our loved ones murdered.” The price on Dorothy’s head was to them very real.

 Dorothy could use your love and support. In return you will truly know you have a very famous sister/cousin/relative. When you see these movies about the Amazon, news reports, global warning reports, you can say Dorothy Stang is making a difference and we love her. 

Merry Christmas,

LaHoma and David Stang

P.S. Dorothy was murdered two months later.