Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in the Amazon

14 January 19 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic, Social Justice, Spirituality

On October 22, 2015 one of my Trinity College classmates, Sr. Kathryn Webster, SND, ’74, was invited to give the 10th anniversary lecture for the “Sower’s Seed” program.  Established by Kathy Snider Dunn ’64 and her family, the program highlights alumnae who have incorporated into their lives the traditions of community service and social justice that are central to the Trinity experience and reflect the Catholic tradition that influences Trinity’s mission. These graduates are invited to come to campus to share their stories with Trinity students, in the hope that their stories will inspire new generations to consider community service, either as a volunteer or as a career. 

Kathryn Webster entered Notre Dame at Ilchester, Maryland in 1976.  After her initial formation in 1979 she went to teach sixth graders at the St. Catherine of Genoa school in Brooklyn, New York.  In 1984 the congregation sent her to Brazil.  She has lived there ever since. Sr. Katy has lived in several different towns in the Amazon Basin.  She’s now in Anapu, a city in the Brazilian state of Pará.  She lives with three other SNDs, working as part of a pastoral team visiting communities, holding meetings, and supporting local people in their struggle for land, security and habitat protection.  “My life is a rich and wonderful life,” Katy said, “and I am very grateful for the opportunity to live and work among the people of the Transamazon.”  

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur began their Amazon mission in 1962 with five sisters “imbued with Gospel values and Vatican II perspectives.”  Sr. Dorothy Stang arrived a few years later, and became famous both her advocacy and martrydom.  She was assassinated in Anapu in 2005.  Sr. Dorothy had been outspoken in her efforts on behalf of the poor, small farming families and the environment. “The death of the forest is the end of our life,” she said. She had received death threats from loggers and land owners.  Hired gunmen shot her six times and left her to die on a dirt road.   Mining companies have now moved into the area.  

Sr. Katy worked alongside Sr. Dorothy Strang and has continued Sr. Dorothy’s ministry. Social and environmental justice advocacy in Brazil is “boots to the ground” hard, gritty, dangerous work. “The struggle,” Sr. Katy said, “is for life: of the people, of the land, the forest and the rivers.  We are 50 miles from the Belo Monte complex, a hydroelectric dam that is being built after 30 years of protest because it is a natural disaster, and the energy it will product will not benefit the local population and really is not needed.” 

I didn’t know Katy well at school but I am very proud to be her classmate.  Our Trinity years helped steer both of us into environmental work and shaped our ethics and spirituality.  

 

 

 

Porpoise Burial Mystery

27 February 18 | Posted in Animals, Events, Global Catholic, Spirituality

In September 2017 archaeologists were wrapping up an excavation on the English Channel island of Chapelle Dom Hue when they made an unexpected and mystifying discovery. The excavation revealed a carefully cut grave plot, which the archaeologists reasonably assumed would hold the remains of a deceased human. Instead, they found that the grave contained the bones of a juvenile porpoise.  

The grave, carefully cut into the rocky soil on a high point of the island overlooking the sea, was constructed with the same techniques used for human graves.

The discovery was made at the site of a medieval monastic site, which was once occupied by monks searching for solitude. The team believes the bones date to the 13th or 14th century.

Philip de Jersey, a States of Guernsey archaeologist, said: “If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it? It was entirely consistent with a human burial, which is one of the most puzzling aspects,” de Jersey added. “The grave cut has been dug very carefully, with vertical sides and a flat base cut into the underlying bedrock. This has taken some considerable care and effort.”

He said it was the most unusual find in his 35-year career. “It’s very peculiar, I don’t know what to make of it. Why go to the trouble of burying a porpoise in what looks like a grave. It’s a wonderful surprise.”

Perhaps the answer is obvious: a wild porpoise developed a bond with one or more of the monks. Someone may have started to feed it, or found it stranded and helped it back into the sea. Or, the porpoise and the man saw each other at a certain time of day in the same spot and a companionship developed.  When it died, or if it was killed, the porpoise was lovingly buried.  

See the excavation video.

 

Bishops Facing Death Threats

18 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Social Justice

They avoid taking buses, make sure friends know their schedules, and rarely go out when it’s dark. For the three foreign-born Roman Catholic bishops under death threat in Brazil’s northeastern state of Para, speaking out against social ills that plague this often-lawless area at the Amazon River’s mouth has come at a price.

Yet they still noisily involve themselves in rights issues here, part of a tradition of Catholic priests who came to Latin America with their views formed by 1970s Liberation Theology that emphasizes justice for the poor and oppressed.

One of the bishops under threat in Para is 69-year-old Austrian-born, Bishop Erwin Krautler. Bishop Krautler has had armed bodyguards around the clock for the past two years in his diocese of Altamira, from where he has denounced illegal logging and other illicit businesses as well as the handling of the Sister Dorothy Strang murder case.

Bishop Krautler remembers the first time he received a death threat. “It was the exact day I completed 25 years as a bishop,” he recalled.  Later that year, a local paper announced the day his assassination would be expected.

Bishop Krautler says there are several groups unhappy with him and with his colleagues, who are fighting to save the Amazon region from environmental destruction. The bishop has recently spoken out against the construction of  a hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River. He has also strongly opposed land-clearing by farmers and loggers in the Amazon forest and is one of the main figures in trying to bring to justice those who killed Dorothy Strang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 2005. bishop-erwin.jpg

“These people have formed a consortium to murder those who speak out against what they are doing,” Bishop Krautler told Catholic News Service. “I believe it was a consortium of landowners who got together to hire someone to murder Sister Dorothy. Sister Dorothy Strang, a native of Ohio and a naturalized Brazilian, was 73 when she was murdered near the town of Anapu. She was known as a fierce defender of the Amazon forest.

The government was surprised by the international repercussions of Sister Dorothy’s assassination. Not wanting to worsen its image abroad, the authorities now provide limited police protection for Bishop Krautler and others.

Bishop Bastes vs. the Mining Industry

12 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Stewardship

Filippino Bishop Arturo Bastes is leading a campaign by Catholic clergy to shut down a gold and copper mine on Rapu-Rapu Island in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes hounded the mine’s Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and is now working on shutting down the new owners–a consortium headed by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp. bishop-bastes.jpg

In the process, Bishop Bastes–with the support of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines–risks thwarting a plan by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, herself a Catholic, to tap the Philippines’ mineral wealth to help lift the country out of poverty.

Bishop Bastes is following a global trend of Catholic clergy taking on mining, especially in Central America.  Priests in the Honduras are protesting open-pit mining techniques and mining-rights laws which they say grant too many benefits to foreign mining companies.

When the church began campaigning against mining in the 1980s, more than 50 mines operated in the Philippines, contributing a fifth of the country’s exports. The number of mines decreased to 12 in 2003 as opposition intensified.

“It’s written in the Bible,” Bishop Bastes says, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: “Do not defile the land where you live and dwell.”

Environmentalists and activists such as Jaybee Garganera, of the Philippines’ Anti-Mining Alliance, credit Bishop Bastes and other church leaders for turning mining into a mainstream issue. “It’s debatable whether we would have gained the same traction without the Church,” Ms. Garganera says.

The Rapu-Rapu mine was supposed to illustrate the Philippines’ new pro-mining policy. But the Australian founder of the project, Lafayette Mining, Ltd., felt the brunt of Bishop Bastes’ force when it began operations in 2005.

“Our project became politicized very quickly,” said David Baker, who took over the management at Lafayette in 2006 after a chemical spill at the site killed thousands of fish. That incident enabled Bishop Bastes and others to successfully petition the Philippine government to order the mine closed. Lafayette eventually sold the mine in 2008 to a South Korean and Malaysian consortium headed by LG International, headquartered in Seoul.

Bishop Bastes and his allies have marched on the South Korean embassy in Manilla to protest the resumption of mining and are tapping environmental experts to expose the dangers of chemical leaching from the project. “Mining is the cause of all the trouble,” Bishop Bastes said. “God created the world for people to enjoy, not for miners to destroy.”

Leading Eco-Theologian Named Bishop

15 February 09 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic

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One of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent episcopal appointments is that of Karl Golser, 65, as the new bishop of the Bolzano-Bressanone diocese in northern Italy. Not only is the diocese a particular favorite of the pope, who has taken his summer vacations there since the late 1960s, but Golser is also a long-time associate of Benedict.

He worked under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the early 1980s and stayed in touch with him afterward.

Golser is widely considered among the leading eco-theologians on the European Catholic scene, which means that Benedict has chosen to introduce a strong new environmental voice in the episcopacy.

During an interview with John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, Golser was asked about Benedict’s core ideas on the environment. “It’s not an accident,” Golser said, “that many of the Holy Father’s comments on the environment have come on Sundays…That’s very important. Sunday is the day we live the joy of redemption, and it also expresses a new relationship with time and space. It’s about the return to Christ, the Parousia. In the Eucharist, it’s also about offering the earth itself back to God, in the consecration of bread and wine.”

“I think the Holy Father draws a great deal on Eastern theology and the fathers of the church, who have a great sensibility for the cosmic dimension of the faith. Starting from the Eurcharist, the liturgy, they propose a whole style of life that’s in harmony with all of creation.  There’s a strong current in Eastern thought, for example, on humanity as the “priest of creation.”

Read the whole interview here.