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Dorothy Mae Stang
|Martyr of the Amazon|
|Born||(1931-06-07)7 June 1931
Dayton, Ohio, United States
|Died||12 February 2005(2005-02-12) (aged 73)
Anapu, Pará, Brazil
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
Sister Dorothy Mae Stang, S.N.D., (7 June 1931 – 12 February 2005) was an American-born, Brazilian member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. She was murdered in Anapu, a city in the state of Pará, in the Amazon Basin of Brazil. Stang had been outspoken in her efforts on behalf of the poor and the environment, and had previously received death threats from loggers and land owners. Her cause for canonization as a martyr and model of sanctity is underway within the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Born on 7 June 1931 in Dayton, Ohio but naturalized Brazilian, She entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur community in 1948 and professed final vows in 1956. From 1951 to 1966, she taught elementary school classes at St. Victor School in Calumet City, Illinois, St. Alexander School in Villa Park, Illinois and Most Holy Trinity School in Phoenix, Arizona.
She began her ministry in Brazil in 1966, in Coroatá, Maranhão. Stang dedicated her life to defending the Brazilian rainforest from depletion from agriculture. She worked as an advocate for the rural poor beginning in the early 1970s, helping peasants make a living by farming small plots and extracting forest products without deforestation. She also sought to protect peasants from criminal gangs working on behalf of ranchers who were after their plots. Dot, as she was called by her family, friends and most locals in Brazil, is often pictured wearing a T-shirt with the slogan, "A Morte da floresta é o fim da nossa vida" which is Portuguese for "The Death of the Forest is the End of Our Lives".
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.
On the morning of 12 February 2005, Stang woke up early to walk to a community meeting to speak about the rights for the Amazon. Ciero, a farmer Stang invited to the meeting, was going to be late. Ciero was a couple of minutes behind Stang, but he was able to see her and hid from the two armed men who followed her. She progressed on and was blocked by the two men, Clodoaldo Carlos Batista and Raifran das Neves Sales, who worked in a livestock compagnie. They asked if she had any weapons, and she claimed that the only weapon would be her Bible. She then read a passage from the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit ..." She continued a couple of steps but was suddenly stopped when Ciero called her "sister", as she was held at gun point by Raifran. When Clodoaldo approved of discharging at Stang, Raifran fired a round at Stang's abdomen. She fell face down on the ground. Raifran fired another round into Stang's back, then fired all four remaining rounds into her head.
Investigation and trials
The US Attorney's Office, Transnational Crime Unit, in Washington, DC, pursued an indictment of the four people (three in custody, one at large) under Title 18, USC 2332, a statute on international homicide. The key elements of this statute require 1) the victim be a US citizen, 2) that the murder take place outside the US, and 3) that the murder was carried out to influence, pressure, or coerce a government or civilian group. Stang's murder met all the key elements.
In June 2005, two men were charged with conspiracy to murder an American outside the United States in connection with her death. These men, Rayfran das Neves Sales and Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, were convicted on 10 December 2005.
On 15 May 2007, a court in the city of Belém sentenced Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, aged 36, to the maximum term of 30 years in prison for paying gunmen to shoot Stang. Stang's brother David, who was at the trial, said "justice was done." In a second trial, Moura was acquitted of all charges, because the gunman, Rayfran das Neves Sales, declared in court to have killed Dorothy Stang for personal motivation. The prosecution appealed, however, and Moura was found guilty, and re-sentenced to 30 years in prison, on 12 April 2010.
Rayfran das Neves Sales was retried on 22 October 2007. He was again found guilty, and a judge in Belém sentenced him to 27 years in prison–the same punishment as in the first trial in 2005. Prosecutors said Moura had ordered Stang's death because she had sent letters to the local authorities accusing Moura of setting illegal fires to clear land, which led to his receiving a substantial fine. At a third trial, on 6 May 2008, Rayfran das Neves Sales was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Regivaldo Pereira Galvão, a rancher suspected of ordering the killing, was arrested in December 2008 and was to be charged with the murder. He had been arrested previously for the murder but released.
On 7 April 2009, the Court of Justice, in Pará, decided to void the third trial. The same court decided to put Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura back in jail but Moura's lawyer appealed that decision. A new trial was to be scheduled. On 22 April 2009, Superior Court of Justice of Brazil set Vitalmiro Moura free until a final decision about his request of Habeas corpus.
On 4 February 2010, Superior Court of Justice revoked Vitalmiro Moura's habeas corpus. Moura was arrested on 7 February, after surrendering voluntarily to police. On 12 April 2010, he was convicted again by a jury and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
On 1 May 2010, Regivaldo Galvão was also convicted of having ordered the murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
On 21 August 2012, the Brazilian Supreme Court conceded an habeas Corpus to Regivaldo Galvão. The defense attorney claims that jury decided to condemn Reginaldo before all the legal recourses available to the defendant were exhausted. Regivaldo Galvão was freed the following day.
On 15 May 2013, Brazil's Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Vitalmiro Moura. On 19 September 2013, Moura was convicted of the murder for a fourth time and sentenced to 30 years in prison by a court in Pará State.
In July 2013, das Neves Sales gained early release from prison. On 20 September 2014, Neves Sales was arrested again facing accusations of having killed a young man and woman with whom he had a drug deal. They supplied 50 kilograms of cocaine from Bolivia, but instead of paying them for the consignment, Sales fatally shot them.
On 2 March, U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich met with Dorothy Stang's brother David, Daniel Junge, who was traveling with Stang to film a documentary, and Sister Mary Ellis McCabe, a member of Dorothy's religious congregation who was stationed in Ceará, Brazil. Stang and Junge were in Brasília to meet with Minister of Justice Marcio Thomaz Bastos after visiting the site of Stang's sister's murder in Para state. Stang thanked the Ambassador for the Embassy's support and said that he was pleased with the Brazilian federal government's reaction. He was very critical, however, of Para state authorities for failing to protect his sister and for failing to offer their condolences during his visit.
In 2008, the American filmmaker Daniel Junge released a documentary titled They Killed Sister Dorothy. The film is narrated by Martin Sheen in the version in English and by Wagner Moura in the version in Portuguese. The film received the Audience Award and the Competition Award at the 2008 South by Southwest Festival, where it had its worldwide première.
In 2009, Evan Mack composed an opera based on the life of Sr. Dorothy Stang. Angel of the Amazon depicts her life's work, her devotion to her mission with Brazilian peasant farmers, and the events that sent her on a path of martyrdom. Encompass New Opera Theatre developed the opera in 2010.
Other notable mentions
A brief overview of the circumstances and murder of Sister Dorothy Stang is discussed in the movie Cowspiracy (2014).
A center for social justice activism at Notre Dame de Namur University is named for her.
- Chico Mendes
- Environment of Brazil
- Indigenous people in Brazil
- José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva
- Vicente Canas
- Wilson Pinheiro
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- Reuters. (21 September 2013). "Brazil: Rancher Convicted Again in Nun's Death," The New York Times, p.A6.
- "Brazilian killer of American-born nun gains early release from prison : News Headlines". Catholic Culture. 5 July 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
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- "angeloftheamazon.com". angeloftheamazon.com. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
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