COLUMBUS (AP) — When the two men hired to kill Sister Dorothy Stang stepped in front of her along a dirt road in the Amazon rain forest, she reached into her bag and pulled out her Bible.
“Do you have a weapon?” one man asked.
“This is my weapon,” she answered, and began reading the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.
The men listened to her read seven of the eight blessings known as the Beatitudes.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” she read just before one of the men shot her six times with a revolver.
Stang, a Dayton native, served 31 years as a missionary in Brazil with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur before she was murdered at the age of 73.
She was being remembered around the country as a brave advocate for the poor and the environment as the order marked the 10th anniversary of her Feb. 12, 2005, death.
In Columbus, St. Matthias Church planned a special Mass and reception where the Brazilian members of the church would sing hymns in Portuguese, and family members and friends of Stang’s would attend.
“She had a lot of courage, she had a deep love of God, and she valued the integrity of every human being on this planet,” said Angie Weisgerber, a spokeswoman for the Ohio province of the Sisters of Notre Dame. “And she worked for peace and human justice and the rights of everybody.”
The men were hired to kill Stang by Brazilian ranchers seeking to steal land given by the government to local families for sustainable farming. The ranchers wanted to silence Stang, who was trying to stop them and loggers from burning the homes and crops of the poor farmers, taking their property and harming the rain forest.
But Stang’s death did not stop her work. She had helped start 35 Christian communities in Brazil; now there are 85. She had helped to open 39 schools; today, there are 115.
Stang has been recognized as a martyr by the Vatican and in 2008 was posthumously awarded a United Nations Human Rights Prize. Her life has been featured in a documentary, a play, an opera and a children’s book.
“It has been phenomenal the influence she has had on people all over the world. We get emails and phone calls asking for materials on her from all over,” said Sister Joan Krimm, who went to Julienne High School in Dayton with Stang and joined the Sisters of Notre Dame convent with her.
Stang had known that there was a price on her head, Krimm said. She thought the ranchers were just trying to scare her away, but she said, “I will not leave. … I’m the only one who can speak up for these people.”
“She said, ‘If I have to give up my life, I’ll give it,’” Krimm said.
Stang, she added, had sat on a log with the men hired to kill her, trying to convince them that the ranchers were wrong. When they told her they were going to build a rancher’s house over her dead body, she blessed them and invited them to a community meeting.
“She had a firm belief that everyone is good, and that if you could just touch that goodness deep within that person, that person would change,” Krimm said.
At St. Matthias, schoolchildren have been learning about Stang and studying the Beatitudes and the Amazon rain forest.
Through those studies, they are thinking about what God is calling them to do and how to make the world a better place, said Sister Marie Shields, a Notre Dame sister who serves as a pastoral assistant at the church.
“She’s a modern-day witness to living the way Jesus has taught us,” Shields said.