Mourners hold vigil at coffin of U.S. nun
Sister Dorothy Stang, a Dayton native, had been threatened.
ANAPU, Brazil (AP) -- Thousands of people, from peasants to politicians, converged on this remote Amazon town Tuesday to bury the bullet-ridden body of an elderly American nun killed in the struggle to protect the Amazon rain forest and its poor residents from loggers and ranchers.
After an all-night vigil, mourners filed slowly past the simple, flag-draped coffin holding the remains of Dorothy Stang in the small shingle-roofed church of Anapu, the jungle town of 7,000 residents that Stang adopted as her own.
"I feel like a river without water, a forest without trees. It's like losing a mother," said Fernando Anjos da Silva, who said Sister Dorothy helped him get medical care after a logging accident that left him in a wheelchair.
Nearly 1,000 miles to the southeast in the capital of Brasilia, Cabinet ministers compared Sister Dorothy to Chico Mendes, the celebrated defender of the rain forest who was gunned down in 1988.
"Chico died for the same reason, killed by people with no respect for life or the law," said Environment Minister Marina Silva.
Brazilians have tried for centuries to conquer the Amazon, which covers more half the country. But the jungle frustrated ventures even by Henry Ford and German billionaire Daniel Ludwig, and some Brazilians call it "the green hell."
Brazil's 1964-85 military government built the Trans-Amazon Highway and gave people free land in an attempt to populate the region. The plan drew settlers from the arid northeast as well as land speculators who took control of much of the rich stands of timber -- mahogany, massaranduba and ipe.
Loggers and ranchers grew strong by backing local politicians, and by hiring gunmen to eliminate opponents.
Sister Dorothy, 73, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, was attacked Saturday in a settlement 30 miles from Anapu, where she worked helping some 400 families survive in the rugged jungle.
A witness said that when two gunmen approached her, she pulled out a Bible and began to read. Her killers listened for a moment, took a few steps back and fired, he said. Coroners said she was shot six times at close range by two guns.
"Dorothy's last words were the only words she knew: the word of God," said Mary Alice McCabe, a nun from Connecticut who has lived in Brazil for 34 years.
"Dorothy was completely dedicated to those people, to the land, to the whole of the Amazon and what the Amazon is: nature, people looking for the right to sustain themselves on the last frontier."