Dorothy Stang & Père Chenu: Teachers of Courage, Firmness, Resistance

Our Saturday DM was dedicated to two great souls who were each committed, in their own way and on their own continents, to love, justice, and the sacredness of creation. 

The tomb of Dorothy Stang, Pará, Brazil. Photo by Tomaz Silva/Agência Brasil. Wikimedia Commons.

Their feast days are back-to-back: Père Chenu, father of the Creation Spirituality movement as well as Liberation Theology, died on February 11. And Sister Dorothy Stang, whose work was to support peasant farmers and the survival of the Amazon rainforest, was martyred on February 12. 

Dorothy refused to back down to the powerful forces that were trying (and still are) to tear down the forest, in order to raise cattle and gain fast profits by serving the beef addiction of so many rich peoples’ diets. Many smart and caring people who know her story have proposed that she be recognized as the patron saint of the ecological movement. (In the Roman Catholic tradition and beyond, a martyr is automatically a saint even before any formal canonization process.) Of course, she is only one of thousands of persons committed to the saving of the Amazon forest, who have laid down their lives for that end. 

The Amazon basin covers 7 million square kilometers (2.7 million square miles, or about 35.5% of South America. Mostly located in Brazil, seven other countries, plus French Guiana territory, are partially included in its area. Photo by NASA. Wikimedia Commons.

What do Sister Dot (as her friends called her) and Père Chenu share in common? In Saturday’s DM, I cited an eminent (and atheist) French historian who said in his public eulogy to Père Chenu at Notre Dame, that he was a light with the “vivacity of thunderstorms” who, while not ignoring the darkness, “followed the light, always present, ever flashing.” That he cared deeply about others and was thoroughly present to them. And that he taught courage, firmness, fearlessness, and resistance—but out of humility.

A tribute to the activist work of Sister Dorothy Stang. Video by The International Peace Museum.

Sister Dot was also, in her way, a light in the darkness and a teacher of courage, firmness, fearlessness and resistance. She knew her life was in danger as a leader in standing up for the rights of the poor and Mother Earth’s forests. Many urged her to return to the safety of her homeland, but she chose to stay and in doing so paid an ultimate price. 

How richly a peasant farmer summarized her life and death and resurrection when, at her funeral, he stood up and declared, “Sister Dorothy, we are not burying you, we are planting you.”


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 40, 73, 79-82, 90, 97, 21, 239, 2251, 76, 281, 285, 311, 341-343, 440, 443, 448, 451. 

And Matthew Fox, Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality, pp. 36-65.

And Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth. 

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT. Wikimedia Commons. 



Queries for Contemplation

What does the declaration, “Sister Dorothy, we are not burying you, we are planting you” mean to you? And to the struggles of our time?


Recommended Reading

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality
Selected with an Introduction by Charles Burack

To encapsulate the life and work of Matthew Fox would be a daunting task for any save his colleague Dr. Charles Burack, who had the full cooperation of his subject. Fox has devoted 50 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship.  His more than 40 books, translated into 78 languages, are inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and have awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. Essential Writings begins by exploring the influences on Fox’s life and spirituality, then presents selections from all Fox’s major works in 10 sections.
“The critical insights, the creative connections, the centrality of Matthew Fox’s writings and teaching are second to none for the radical renewal of Christianity.” ~~ Richard Rohr, OFM.

Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.


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7 thoughts on “Dorothy Stang & Père Chenu: Teachers of Courage, Firmness, Resistance”

  1. Avatar

    The words – “Sister Dorothy, we are not burying you, we are planting you… “ – by a Brazilian peasant at Dorothy’s funeral to me are full of our spiritual wisdom and Faith that GOD’S SPIRIT of LOVE~WISDOM~TRUTH~PEACE~JUSTICE~HEALING~TRANSFORMATION~STRENGTH~
    CREATIVITY~COMPASSION~ONENESS… are PRESENT and ETERNAL within our hearts/lives/
    SOULS with one another Co-Creating~Evolving in our Beautiful Sacred Mother, and in our Sacred multidimensional-multiverse COSMOS, to manifest Our SOURCE~CO-CREATOR’S Eternally Evolving QUEENDOM ~KINGDOM on Earth as it is in HEAVEN….

  2. Avatar

    I too second the Brazilian’s comments. I pray that Dot’s community will push for her recognition in the Universal Church.
    Thanks, Matthew, for the superb DMs. Sometimes , however, the language/concepts don’t register.
    Blessings,
    Ralph Kleiter , Ministry to Tourism
    Diocese of Saskatoon, Canada

  3. Avatar

    When the farmer said that he and his fellow peasants were planting Dorothy, he declared that the actions of her life, like a seed, would help lead to a flowering of justice for the poor and their land. Like many, I’m often troubled when I don’t see results from actions I take–hoping to make the world a better place. Many years ago Ann Rosenthal, an environmental artist friend, was struggling with whether to pursue a Master’s Degree in order to have a bigger impact through her art. I told her, “We are not in charge of outcomes. We are only in charge of doing the best we can at any given moment.” She got her degree and continues doing environmental art–perhaps her degree gives her more credence. Who knows? Recently, I asked the same friend whether I should use my skills to do something other than write plays since they are produced so infrequently. Ann gave me similar guidance. She said to write them. Maybe in the future, she said, they will speak to a different audience. We never know the effect our actions have. I like to think that one effect of Dorothy Stang’s life is to help boot Bolsonaro out of office and re-instate da Silva as president of Brazil–a president who cares, at least a little, about Brazil’s rainforests.

  4. Avatar

    Yes I often feel this truth. That the person(s) who loved me unconditionally when they were alive are literal seeds of grace that planted in me and are blooming. It’s a very mysterious process of both grief and joy. And I also feel all the time that the “sunset” of that unconditional love continues to light my path without end or beginning… from my future, from my past. The light and power of that “sunset” just continues to grow and grow. It’s a marvel to me.

  5. Avatar

    I also immediately thought of seeds being planted. We are not in control of outcomes, and we may not even see our seeds taking root, nor may the persons with whom the seeds were planted. It is a mystery. But grow they will, and hopefully they will spread love to all they reach.

  6. Avatar

    In the life of certain seeds, planted deep in the soil, some remain dormant, buried within, until some particular event, circumstance or situation causes them to open and begin to take root, reaching upward and outward, breaking into the surface, releasing its potential of new life.

    This natural yet often mysterious movement of unfolding, evolving emergence that we see in nature, is a reflection of what we see in the conscious awakening of humanity as well. I think of the many mystics and saints and the seeds of their wisdom teachings, that were often hidden underground for centuries, due to the oppression and suppression of unbalanced patriarchal and heirarchal powers rooted and dominated by fear.

    And then I also see the ripening of the moments, events, circumstances and situations that we are living in, and people like Matthew, Mirabia Starr, Chenu, Dorothy and many others, including ourselves; digging deep, breaking ground to fertilize these seeds of wisdom, nurturing what appeared at first to be lost, yet was merely lying dormant, awaiting the season in order to release its greatest potential, for the common good of all.

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