Why are the Sisters of Notre Dame in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil?
At the request of Pope John XXIII, religious communities in North America were asked to send 10% of their personnel to Latin America to serve. The year was 1963. Many Sisters throughout the U.S. volunteered to go to Brazil and soon after five Sisters began the Notre Dame mission there.
The Sisters have remained in the Amazon because of the extreme injustices done to both the people and the earth. The Sisters believe that St. Julie Billiart, their co-foundress, would be there today, working alongside the abandoned and seeking to bring God's goodness, healing and justice.
But the Sisters also saw immense poverty--poverty that was ingrained in a centuries-old semi-feudal arrangement that weathly landowners wielded over workers. As Sr. Roseanne Murphy writes in "Martyr of the Amazon", "How the people were living became painfully clear to Dorothy and the other Sisters who saw the swollen bellies and stick legs of the children and heard of the brutality of the landowners' treatment of their workers. She and the other Sisters knew they had to help the people to learn about their rights."
A Change in Venue
After years in Coroata, Sr. Dorothy and other Sisters plunged deeper into the Amazon to accompany the farmers who were migrating further and further to seek a better life and livelihood.
The Sisters keenly felt the loss of the thousands of trees and plants in what had been such an incredibly beautiful area. Filmmaker Sam Clements ("The Student, The Nun & The Amazon") writes of his 2003 visit with Sr. Dorothy: "We were taken deeper into the forest until we came to a point where the trees parted to a scene of utter devastation. An open expanse of wilting grass and charred remains...Sr. Dorothy stamped the ground; rock that had once been soil. 'Look,' she proclaimed, 'this used to be Amazon forest. It's gone forever. Nothing can grow here now.'"
The Sisters working in Para remain committed to helping the poor and protecting the rainforest as an amazing part of God's creation.