Seven years ago on Feb. 13, 2005, Dorothy Stang, an American Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was martyred in the Amazon as a result of her work with the landless poor there. When two hired gunmen met her on a muddy path they asked if she was carrying a weapon. In reply, she took out a Bible and began to recite the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are the peacemakers.” Then she was shot six times and killed.
James Martin, over at America magazine, posted this wonderful video by students James Newton and Sam Clements that is one part of a series of four on Dorothy’s work in the Amazon.
In the summer of 2003 Newton and Clements headed to Brazil with a video camera, a map, and the idea to make a documentary. While filming in Southern Brazil, they heard about the extraordinary work of U.S. missionary Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun with a price on her head. For more than 20 years she had been fighting to preserve the Amazon rainforest, while helping peasant farmers live sustainably. Inspired by a mere five-minute call to Sister Dorothy, they set off on a 2500-mile journey to find her. Little did they know of the dangers ahead, or that Sister Dorothy would later be killed by hired gunmen.
When international climate negotiators meet in December in Copenhagen, Brazilian Catholic Amazonian activist Marina Silva will serve as the conference’s conscience. A native Amazonian who grew up in a community of rubber-tappers, Silva worked with murdered Catholic activist Chico Mendes, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996, and served as Brazil’s minister of the environment under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from 2002 to 2008, when she resigned in protest.
Of her early faith, Silva writes: “One of my biggest problems during my childhood was to find out who God was and where He had come from. Even if I had never seen a Bible and had never entered church, I started a journey” (see Marina Silva: Defending Rainforest Communities in Brazil). She’s also known for her deeply held beliefs in nonviolence. “I have a great admiration for people who struggle in the way Gandhi did: at once activist and pacifist, ” she said in a 1995 interview.
Washington Post‘s environment reporter Julie Eilperin interviewed Marina Silva when she was in town this month. Here’s an excerpt:
What inspired you to do environmental work?
It was a combination of things. First, the sensibility I gained from living with the forest, from being born there and taking my sustenance from it until I was 16 years old. Second was my contact with liberation theology, with people like Chico Mendes, a connection that raised social and political consciousness about the actions of the Amazonian rubber-tappers and Indians who were being driven out of their lands because the old rubber estates were being sold into cattle ranches. These encounters made me become engaged with the struggle in defense of the forest. Later, I discovered that this was about “the environment” and the protection of ecosystems. It was an ethical commitment that these natural resources could not be simply destroyed.
How does your Amazon upbringing affect the way you see the issues at stake?
Without doubt, the experience of living in one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions of the world has affected how I see the world. I see two time frames: forest time and city time. Forest time is slower; things have to be more fully processed; information takes a long time to get there, so people didn’t have access to new information. When a new idea arrived, you thought about it, elaborated on it, talked about it for a long time. So this way of thinking, reflecting on and developing ideas, helps me have a sense of the preservation of things, to not make rushed decisions.