Dorothy Stang, Part 2

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 2 part series.  Read part 1 here.

Enter the villains. The ranchers hire gunmen who shoot her to death on February 12, 2005. Seeing the gun, Dorothy doesn’t run or plead for her life, as most folks would. Fear would’ve been natural and understandable. Instead she pulls out her Bible and reads the Beatitudes aloud. The divine power transcends human limitations; in those final moments, she imitated Christ. She must’ve spent a lifetime preparing for that climax; now she teaches me how to live.

Breathing a deep lungful of piney mountain air, scented with sage, at home in the Rocky Mountains, I recall Dorothy’s joy outdoors. Without much institutional church, she finds God in the green canopy of trees, the cathedral of forest. Dorothy reminds me that when we lose our sacred connection to the earth, we’re stuck with small selves and petty concerns. In film footage, she proudly shows off a tree farm, exulting, “we CAN reforest the Amazon!”

Dorothy has encouraged me to stop eating beef, since intensive grazing requires destruction of the rainforest. I’m learning “green” alternatives to wasteful habits. Like most North Americans, I have enough stuff and now lean towards a simpler life. David explains, “she was so in love with what she was doing, she didn’t notice her dirt floor, primitive plumbing, no electricity.”

“Holy” once meant pious and passive. But Dorothy models how to raise Cain and act for justice. As we baby boomers age, Dorothy is patron saint for slow butterflies and reluctant caterpillars. She didn’t remain captive to her traditional upbringing. She probably could’ve hunkered down into the retirement center, counted her wrinkles and kept careful tabs on her ailments—as some older folk do. Instead, vivaciously, she tried new things, journeyed to new places. Her face is so youthful, it’s hard to think of her as 73. If I want to look that luminous at that age, I too must shed fears and take risks.

I want to love as gladly and fully as she did. It’s easy to get caught up in trivia: social commitments, work deadlines, domestic chores. But is this how we want to spend the precious coinage of brief lives? At Dorothy’s funeral, her friend Sister Jo Anne announced, “we’re not going to bury Dorothy; we’re going to plant her. Dorothy Vive!” If I want that immortality, I should examine what seeds I’m planting now, how I’ll live on in memory.

Dorothy has ruined my easy cop-out: how can one small person offset complex and apparently hopeless wrongs? Dorothy and I are the same height, 5’2”. Yet look what this giant accomplished: her killers’ trials, televised to every Brazilian classroom, have given children hope.

Her family and community won’t pursue canonization, preferring to give the poor the money that cause would require. Many already consider Dorothy a saint and martyr—in the early church, that’s all that mattered. As one biographer said about St. Catherine of Siena, “someone must’ve told her women were inferior. She clearly didn’t believe it.”

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