"Care of the Earth"
By Sister Nancy Citro
February 12, 2005: I remember that day well, as often happens when tragedy strikes. I was in my office at Mother St. Joseph House (a Sister of Notre Dame Rest Home) when I received the phone call. Details were sketchy but the dreadful and unwelcome news was certain.
I asked the staff to gather the sisters in the Chapel as I had some important news to share. I prayed silently for wisdom and strength. Upon taking my place at the front of the chapel, I looked at the sisters’ faces and I knew that the most merciful thing to do was to get to the point. And so I told them that our sister, Dorothy Stang, in Brazil had been killed as she was walking along a road on her way to a meeting in the area of Boa Esperança (Good Hope).
It was said that when the assassins stopped her on the road, they asked her if she had a gun. She responded that her weapon was her Bible and began reading the Beatitudes from Matthew, Chapter 5. Her voice was silenced with six gun shots.
Sister Dorothy had received many credible death threats for her work with the poor in their struggle for the protection of the environment, particularly the Amazon rainforest where they learned to farm and extract products for their livelihood without harming the environment. I heard that on her last home visit to Ohio, where she was from, she was encouraged not to return to Brazil because of these threats.
She is quoted as saying, “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 ecosystem.”
It was a very sad time, especially for those of us in the States who knew Dorothy and some of the other sisters in Brazil. It was a very sorrowful time for our sisters in Brazil who had lived and worked with her at one time or another. It was a devastating time for the Brazilian poor who labored with her shoulder to shoulder and considered her to be one with them. Many also had lost loved ones in their struggle to preserve the rainforest from destruction by loggers and ranchers who were illegally cutting down trees, using the land for cattle grazing and threatening the inhabitants if they did not leave.
The poor of Brazil named Dorothy the “Angel of the Amazon.” On the day of her funeral, the people took turns, carrying her for miles from village to village to her resting place where they adamantly stated that they were not burying her but planting her.
The struggle in that region of Brazil is ongoing and lives continue to be lost. But they live in the hope that one day justice will prevail. Their struggle is not just for their own survival. They know the importance of the rainforest for the world’s climate and for future generations. It is said that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” But too much blood has been and is being shed.
On his visit to Brazil a couple of weeks ago, Pope Francis met with some indigenous Brazilians who shared these struggles with him. In one of his many speeches there, the Pope spoke to our duty to protect the indigenous people. He also challenged us to take seriously our responsibilities as stewards of God’s creation to protect the environment—to develop a strong commitment to the Earth. “This creation,” he said, should not “be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden.”
Our “garden” is polluted and we are in what some call a “defining moment in history.” In the document Today’s Challenge to Action: the Care of the Earth, penned by several Sisters of Notre Dame, we are told that “climate scientists the world over as well as indigenous communities and world spiritual leaders agree that Earth is in crisis. This is a matter of very great importance. The natural balance of our planet which nurtured and protected humanity for thousands of years has been disrupted by human activity. The disruption is so devastating and is occurring so rapidly that scientists are telling us that we must act now to stop the momentum toward a situation in which human civilization as we have known it is no longer possible on Earth.
We are slowly coming to consciousness that we humans hold the fate of the planet, and therefore also our fate, in our own hands. We live in an era of decision. Our choices in the immediate future will direct the evolutionary process. We can continue on the path leading to death and destruction or we can change direction and give birth to a new earth of life-giving relationship.”
None of us can do everything but all of us can do something to reduce our carbon footprint and consumption of resources. Doing so will not cost us our lives or livelihood as is happening in the Amazon and other parts of our world. If anything, it will only be an inconvenience.
So let’s educate ourselves as how to best save Planet Earth. Support programs and legislation that preserve the environment. Oppose those that are detrimental to it. Recycle, conserve water, reduce the amount of electricity and paper we use, walk, bike, take the T, reduce speeds when driving, car pool, plant trees, etc.
Doing something is better than doing nothing. We can be the generations that help to turn things around or we can be the generations that contribute to its demise and ultimately our own.
Sister Nancy Citro is the pastoral associate for St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Church in Charlestown.