American nun murdered in Brazil

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

ANAPU, Pará, Brazil – Gunmen murdered an American Catholic nun, Sister Dorothy Stang, 73, in Pará, Brazil.

The crime occurred Saturday, Feb. 12, at 9:00 a.m. Her attackers shot Stang six times: once in the head, three times in the back, while she was carrying a Bible. Another shot, at her neck, was fatal. The crime occurred in Anapu, Pará, inside the Amazon region.

Stang is from Ohio, United States. She had been living in Pará for about 38 years. She came to Brazil in 1966. She is a member of the Catholic group Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. She was an activist and had been working at the region of Anapu. Earlier this year, the missionary received an "Honorary Citizenship of the State" from the state of Para.

Stang had been defending the Projeto de Desenvolvimento Sustentado(Project of Supported Development) or PDS for short. The Trans-Amazon development project was designed to generate jobs and income in Anapu. It supported the creation of an fruit processing industry, the construction of two small 500 kilowatt hydroelectric powerplants, and aided reforestation in degraded areas. According to Reuters, loggers, ranchers, and large farmers have been strong opponents of the project and of Stang.

Stang has already received death threats several times before. In March 2004, she asked for help from Brazilian Federal authorities, saying she and other persons were on a death list.

On another occasion, in August 2004, she said, "It is not my safety but that of the people that really matters. All of the Sisters of Notre Dame working in Brazil work very closely with our people and want to be a sign of hope. It is wonderful to be a part of this struggle and this is the contribution of Notre Dame."

The police requested the arrest of four suspects. Two are the alleged gunfighters Eduardo and Fogoió, one is a man called Tato who supposedly contacted the gunfighters and the other one is a farmer, Vítor Miro Bastos de Moura, known as Bida who is believed to have contracted the assassins.

The Brazilian police also found a body of another man 500 meters from the place were they found the body of the nun. The murdered man was identified as the peasant Adalberto Xavier Leal, known as the Cabeludo or the Hairy Man. He was working for a farmer who had already invaded the area of the PDS maintained by sister Dorothy.

The Brazilian police commissioner Marcelo Ferreira said the peasant was killed as a revenge for the murder of sister Dorothy. He received several shots from an armed group. According to the police the group would be connected to the missionary.

The funerals of sister Dorothy Stang will take place in Anapu and Altamira. She is scheduled to be buried on the morning of Feb. 16 in Anapu.

In the United States, a funeral mass is scheduled on March 19 at Mount Notre Dame Convent Chapel in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Brazilian government declared the resolution of the case a high priority. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sent two ministers and the federal police force to the region. Eight Ministers are scheduled to have an extraordinary meeting and discuss the case.

Rosana Gisele da Costa, a friend of Stang's from the Institute of Environment Research, told reporters that there must be a more active government presence in the region.

"Unfortunatelly this is not a isolated case", da Costa said.

She said other people will die if the Brazilian government does not start good political development of the region. She hopes the current actions by the government after the murderer of sister Dorothy will not be temporary.

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