Brazilian nun killers can count on American Catholics to stay focused on what reallymatters — gay marriage and Clint Eastwood movies.
Hired gunmen shot an American nun, 74-year-old Dorothy Stang of Ohio, in the face three times on Saturday. Stang, a member of the Catholic Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, had been helping Brazilian peasants fight (legally) the expropriation of their land by ranching and logging interests. So far, the conservative Catholic blogosphere seems disinterested. Maybe the dissonance — “free markets” vs. nun-shooting — is just too great. Does not compute. Must continue fight against foe more dangerous than gun-toting nun killers: gay marriage.
Not that more information on Stang and the dangers she faced hasn’t been available — and for awhile. That great Catholic magazine Outside sounded the alarm in a fine 2002 piece by Patrick Symmes, called “Blood Wood.”
In Altamira more activists greet us, eight of them on death lists of some kind. One is a T-shirted American nun in her seventies, Dorothy Stang from Dayton, Ohio. A member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Stang has lived in Brazil since 1966; she’s used to the heat, the humidity, and the insects, but not the death threats. “The logging companies work with a threat logic,” she says, describing the shadowy magic in which one day a company or rancher will complain about an activist, and the next he’ll be gone. “They elaborate a list of leaders, and then a second movement appears to eliminate those people.”
Stang says she received her most recent death threat just three days ago, after helping disarm three pistoleiros trying to evict farmers from land claimed by a wealthy rancher. “If I get a stray bullet,” the sister says cheerily, “we know exactly who did it.”
Preserving the rainforest, and the livelihoods of those people who’ve traditionally thrived in it, is a spiritual concern. But try telling that to activists more concerned with condoms than actual killing. Does helping hungry peasants fight corporations with cash to dole out to politicians and priests count as part of the culture of life? Some Catholics think so. As recently as November of 2004, an order of Dominican nuns issued an“urgent appeal” for help for Sister Dorothy.
“‘I don’t want to flee nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers that live without any protection in the forest,’” Sister Dorothy told an Italian Catholic journal that considers agrarian reform a high priority. “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.’”
Yeah, maybe — but that’s nothing compared to American Catholics’ sacrosanct right to complain about Million Dollar Baby. Gotta keep your priorities straight. Pop culture and queers, vs. millions without land and men with guns who want to keep it that way? No contest. Fight the culture of death! Stop Buster the Bunny from maple sugaring ever again!
This post is dreadfully earnest. If St. Blog’s notices it, they’ll likely dismiss it as liberal and snide. As for the mainstream press: Numerous papers are carrying the AP story, and a few are linking Sister Dorothy’s murder to that of the Brazilian land activist Chico Mendes, but we haven’t seen any that connect Sister Dorothy’s life work for the real implementation of land reform to her Catholicism. Sister Dorothy, who died doing what the Church does best — fighting for the poor, against the greedy and powerful — is a curiousity who expired beyond the realm of “hot button issues.” Were it not for the fact that she’d been born in the United States, she might not be getting any press at all.
An exception is this remembrance from Sister Dorothy’s hometown, by Mara Lee in theDayton Daily News. Free reg. required. Here’s an excerpt:
Sister Joan Krimm, the nun’s lifelong friend since their Dayton childhood and a fellow missionary in Brazil for 10 years, often talked on the phone with “Dot.”
“She loved the Brazilian people very much and spoke constantly about their danger,” Krimm said. She said Stang worried that the farmers trying to make a living in the Amazon would be killed by men hired by loggers, ranchers or land speculators who wanted them out of the way.
Stang’s sister Barbara Richardson, 68, said her sister told her that her parishioners “were extremely poor, that their lives were not long, that their hardships were terrible.”
That’s all true, Krimm said, but the decade she lived among them, “I learned about the resiliency of the poor. Their faith in God, their joy, even in their struggle.”
Stang had the same joy, her friends and family said.
“She was such a delight, she was just a fireball,” Richardson said
Richardson said her sister’s upbeat letters “always played down her danger.” When her brother came back from Brazil about a month ago, where he’d gone to see Stang receive a human rights award from the Brazilian Order of Lawyers, he talked about the price on her head being upped.
“I said, ‘Upped?!’ ”
Krimm said, “When I would try to speak to her about the danger she was in, she would say, ‘I can’t worry about that. It’s the people that are important.’
“I talked to her last week and she told me several homes had been burned and the people just chased away.”
Stang and Krimm went from Julienne High School to the convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an international Catholic religious order, in Cincinnati in 1948. Stang was just a junior in high school.
“She wanted to be a missionary and she stuck to it,” said Richardson.