Friday March 20, 2009

Justice Denied

A slain missionary's brother, in town for the premiere of an HBO documentary about his sister's life and work, encourages UD students to have courage in the face of injustice, just as Sister Dorothy Stang did.

The facts are indisputable. Sister Dorothy Stang, a Dayton native, was murdered in the Amazon rainforest when she stood up to big landowners and demanded rights for poor peasant farmers.

Yet four years after her death, justice is still being denied.

"What we have today is a stomping," David Stang told University of Dayton students. "The powerful and the rich are stomping on the rights of the poor. That's what my sister's life was all about. She believed in the rights of the poor to have dreams."

As part of a trip to his hometown for the Dayton premiere of the documentary They Killed Sister Dorothy Thursday, March 19, at the Dayton Art Institute, Stang visited the Vocation and the Arts class of Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, M.H.S.H. The University's human rights program partnered with HBO, Time Warner Cable, the Dayton Art Institute, Film Dayton and the Dayton International Peace Museum to bring the documentary to town just days before it airs on HBO on March 25.

Stang shared personal observations of his sister's missionary work in Brazil as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur:

  • She opened schools.
  • She taught sustainable farming.
  • She believed the poor had rights and that powerful loggers and ranchers couldn't rape the land out of greed.

"(Everyone knows) sisters should be in the church saying their rosaries," Stang said. "The loggers and the ranchers, who are all Catholic, screamed to the bishop, 'Get this nun back in church.' My sister was going up against a protected class, and she got away with that for 38 years."

According to human rights groups, more than 1,100 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and other rural workers have been killed in disputes over preserving land in Brazil over the last two decades.

When two gunmen approached Stang's sister, she pulled out her Bible and began reading a passage from the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." They shot her six times.

The University of Dayton bestowed a posthumous honorary degree of humane letters on the first anniversary of her murder.

Stang urged students to be courageous and rely on their faith — just as Sister Dorothy Stang did.

"If you open up your minds and hearts to what God gave us, you'll find that everything is there to meet your needs," he said. "It may not come from the classroom. It may not come from your culture. You must find out what gives you strength and courage."

— Teri Rizvi