“If a Tree Falls in the Forest…”

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the martyrdom of Sr. Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, renowned for her work with the landless indigenous communities of Brazil and for her efforts to preserve the rain forest. On February 12, 2005, less than a week after meeting with the country’s human rights officials about threats to local farmers from loggers and landowners, Sr. Dorothy was shot four times in the chest and head by a pair of gunmen. She was 74. When the trees remember and sing their silent psalms, they sing for Sr. Dorothy.

The circumstances of Sr. Dorothy’s martyrdom are not so different from those of Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, defender of the landless peasants of El Salvador. On March 12, 1977, Fr. Grande, accompanied by parishioners Manuel Solorzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16, was driving through sugar fields near the village of El Paisnal, on their way to evening mass, when all three were slaughtered by machine gun fire. Fr. Grande’s death marked a pivotal moment of conversion and transformation in his friend, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and by extension, the struggle for dignity and life for a whole people.

In thanksgiving for the gift of their lives, I offer two songs by Canadian singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn, himself a relentless advocate for the poor and forgotten peoples of the world. For Sr. Dorothy and everything she lived and died for, Cockburn’s “If a Tree Falls in the Forest”; and for Fr. Rutilio Grande, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” a song the artist wrote during his visit in the early 1980s to a refugee camp in Honduras, just across the border from Guatemala.

Cockburn has penned many powerful protest songs over the course of his incredible career. These are two of his angriest. To my mind they are an expression of holy anger, God’s own rebellion against greed and idolatrous violence, through the mouths of the prophets.

“If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear?” The birth of hope, and its death, hinges precisely on our listening.




“They Killed Sr. Dorothy” (2008), with Martin Sheen.

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur: Remembering Sister Dorothy Stang

NY Times Remembrance

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