While Sister Jane Dwyer, SNDdeN was on her home visit from Brazil, she visited the sisters at Mount Notre Dame, including former Brazil missionaries Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Judi Clemens, Jo Anne Depweg, and Joan Krimm. Jane used four questions to give the sisters an update on Brazil.
What are our problems in Brazil?
Ranchers continue to burn small farms and murder those promoting the people’s rights. However, the Brazilian people do not respond with violence. 1% of the people have control of the land and 50% of the wealth. Destruction of the forest continues. Where our Sisters live, over one million trees that produce Brazil nuts came down within 11 months. The Indigenous people say, “We cannot live without the forest and without our land. This is who we are.”
Why do we have these problems? Where do they come from?
The people need the support of the government, but Brazil’s former President and Congress do not care about people who are poor. They say that the people who are poor are blocking progress, but it depends on how one defines progress! Every few months houses are burned. On August 18, when Jane Dwyer was in Baltimore, people in Anapu were attacked, and houses were burned. People contacted Jane, and she was on the internet with them from 1 AM to 5 AM, encouraging the people to stay calm.
What are our Sisters doing?
Beginning in 1982, when Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN went with people into the forest, she began helping them to assume their struggle. They have made great progress in defending their rights. Once a year, they have a Mass, a big celebration always followed by a shared meal. Every Saturday people gather to reflect on Scripture and to share a meal, which is their Eucharist and their strength. In Brazil, a goal is for everyone to have a piece of land to raise crops to feed their families and to share their food with others.
Currently, our Sisters have houses in three areas: Anapu, Breves, and Oiapoque. Our sisters choose to remain in Anapu to support the people in their struggles. Living there are Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Jane Dwyer, Tecla da Silva Gaia, Maria Vagner Souza da Silva, and Katy Webster. Despite threats, they do not want special protection. Jane says, “We have the best life in the world.” Katy and Jane have a garden to provide food for the people to feed their families and to share, but not to sell. Forest animals come out of the forest because their food was destroyed in the forest fire. The people say that they must share their food with the animals also. The Sisters are not political. They help the people come together to save the land and to make decisions. Attacks occur about every three months. Tecla and Maria Vagner do pastoral work in Anapu. Tecla is also the contact for the equivalent of an LCWR region of women’s religious congregations.
Living in Breves are Sandra Maria de Jesus, Lucyanne R. Diniz, and Carla Maria Souza de Vasconcelos who do pastoral work with people of various ages.
Province Moderator Josineide Maria da Silva, Maria de Jesus Borges Costa, Maria Socorro Oliveira da Silva, and Rebeca Spires live in Oiapoque. Rebeca continues to work with Indigenous people. The others do pastoral work with women who are trafficked, and some assist Rebeca with women who are trafficked.
What do we need to do?
We must join with other countries to help the Brazilian people save the forest and the land because they cannot do it alone. We need to encourage countries to stop buying wood from Brazil. We also need to pray for the people of Brazil.
Attending Jane’s presentation was a woman who has a great interest in Dorothy Stang and set up a foundation to support the work of Brazilian people and our sisters. With the Foundation’s support, the Brazilian people are rebuilding houses and schools that the ranchers and loggers burned recently. The Foundation also supports two men, who know farming and the forest, to continue Dorothy’s program of teaching the men to plant. Now the people have magnificent corn and rice fields.
In closing, Jane Dwyer said, “Our sisters in Brazil are ‘coming into their own’ and are doing a great job. Province Team members are all Brazilians.”
Written by Sister Rita Sturwold, SNDdeN, December 2022.