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An Invitation to Romaria da Foresta in Anapu, Pará, Brazil
Sister Kathryne Webster, SNDdeN
During a 3-day period, groups of about 50 to 250 people walk 34 miles from the St. Raphael Center to the Project of Sustainable Development, Esperança.  Why?  What is the point?  Why is this Romaria or Pilgrimage a commitment?
The Project of Sustainable Development (PDS) is a collective way for small farmers to use the land and the forest without destroying it.  People who were trying to destroy this project murdered Sister Dorothy Stang in 2005.   They thought that killing Sr. Dorothy would put such fear into the people so that they would abandon the project and flee. Then, the forest, land and wealth of nature would belong to these wealthy landowners and be theirs unchallenged. The murder of Sr. Dorothy did not put fear into the people.  In fact, the few people living in the projects when Dorothy was killed have increased to over 200 now!  This is hardly a sign that the people would give up and let fear cancel the project.
In a meeting in 2006, the people were determined to show that they were still involved.  They were assuming responsibility to secure the land for small farmers, to keep the forest standing and to preserve the environment. They really desired to call attention to their presence and to the fact that they were still producing on the land, struggling to preserve the environment and grow as a strong organization.
There was a spark: a pilgrimage! In fits and starts, the idea grew and took shape.  We decided to start in Anapu, beginning at the parish Church and now in the St. Raphael Center.  The Center is a place where people gather for meetings, courses, celebrative events, and recreation.  It is also where Dorothy is buried.  Together, we walk the 34 miles to the Project of Sustainable Development, Esperança where Dorothy was killed. Families are now living and working there; they defend the forest, restore the areas of cow grass, planted by the ranchers who had stolen the land. Two ranchers were masterminds behind Sr. Dorothy’s murder. 
At the end of July, the pilgrimage takes place. July 25 is the Day of the Small Farmer.  In the past, the Pioneer Association, an association of small farmers secured the land   with Sr. Dorothy’s help.  Migrating from other areas in Brazil, with different climates and farming experience, members of this association learn new techniques necessary to work in the Amazon area.  They plan a weekend to study new techniques, to celebrate the value of the land, to preserve nature, and to come together in a festival!  The pilgrimage is a way to continue this tradition, marked to include July 25.
We send invitations to all the communities in Anapu, all the parishes in the diocese, and friends and collaborators of the Land Pastoral all over Brazil.  For the past 6 years, we have participated and are now planning our 7th pilgrimage. This year the them is “Anapu on pilgrimage and planting  million trees.”  The annual pilgrimage is a way that the people say: “We are here and that no one is going to destroy us, or push us off the land.”    The pilgrimage is also a way also to work together and share with others so that all have enough.  
On Pilgrimage
Each morning, we begin with a spiritual event…a prayer, an exercise, a reading, a song, a gesture.  A committee is responsible to help us begin the day, in the beauty of the dawning sun.  
First afternoon: We walk 6 km and are welcomed at the first community with dinner of beans and rice and beef.  We hang our hammocks, and in the evening there is a presentation. One year it was the routines of Capoeira, a combination of martial arts and dance inspired by our African roots. Another year it was the movie of the history of our Pioneer Association.  Another year it was a film on the study of the Bible.  
Second day: This is the longest and hottest day because it is through an area that has been deforested, a sign of what we do not want in the future. We stop for lunch and a break at the lot of one of the local farmers where a creek provides a wonderful place to cool off.  A team of cooks goes ahead of the pilgrims to prepare the meal for us. All food is a gift from the people of the parish….beans, rice, meat, salt, oil, squash, onions, coffee, sugar, garlic, manioc.  It is a tremendous sharing of what people have grown; this sustains everyone during the pilgrimage.  
In the evening of the second day, we arrive at the Vila Santana.  Again, the people and the travelling team of cooks are waiting with dinner, and the hammocks are strung from trees, from beams of a few buildings and in people’s homes. There is no creek here, so the huge tanks of water have been filled so we can take buckets to the wooden structures for a bath. After supper again, there is still energy to play with the children or see a movie.  
On the third day, we reach the Project for Sustainable Development.  Everyone notices the change, as the forest becomes more dense. There are long stretches of shade!  We stop for lunch on the frontier of the PDS.  Now there is a barrier, a chain that crosses the road.  The chain is guarded by a company financed by the Brazilian federal government, which has the responsibility to keep loggers out.  This guard post was won after a small group of people spent nine months camping on the road to prevent the loggers from entering, or if they had entered, they were unable to leave with the wood from the PDS. This action was part of the systematic struggle to defend the forest, the patrimony of the people of the sustainable project.  Where there is a story to be told in each place, the story is told.  The memory is kept alive and passed on and spread….this is what we have done as an organized force to defend the land, the forest,  our lives and the future of our children.
In the late afternoon of the third day, we arrive at the cross in the middle of the road. Here is where Sr. Dorothy met Rayfran and Clodoaldo.  After a brief conversation, they  shot her dead on this site, now adorned with a cross, plants and flowers. During pilgrimages,  there are flowers, paper streamers, balloons, and posters that speak of the struggle and the dream for  life. The produce of the PDS is evident:  plenty of cacao, pineapple, beans, rice, manioc, bananas, squash, and lots of each. People remember Dorothy, the events around her murder, the struggles, the events of the year, and their dreams. We light candles. We sing, pray and we cry.  We absorb the energy of this sacred place.  
We move on to the huge pavilion that is a place for meetings, courses and celebrations.  We have dinner and we bathe in the river. We hang our hammocks among the trees of the forest.  In the evening, there is a celebration of life….dance performances, music and songs, composed for the event. Stories are told, and then everyone dances.  At this point, many people arrive who were not on the pilgrimage, but who come to participate in the last day of the celebration.
On the last day, we rise to music and the call for coffee.  We go back to the place of the cross for the final celebration.  We celebrate a liturgy, prepared by the pilgrims with the folks of the community of the PDS. Songs, dances, dramatizations of the struggle, testimonies of graces granted, offerings of thanksgiving and statements of commitment are part of the ritual.
Faith Event
The pilgrimage is an act of faith. It is an event that says death does not ever have the last word.  Problems do not disappear; new ones rise up.  Sometimes it seems that all will be lost. Then the spirit blows again, new ideas surface and new solutions appear.  In this pilgrimage, we celebrate and take energy from the unity of the people and the surrounding life of the forest.
The Sisters of Notre Dame are present in this pilgrimage, helping with preparations, on the cooking team, walking with the people, and being a support.  To date participants have been:  Sisters Jane Dwyer, Lucyane Diniz, Maria Fátima Borges Costa, Maria de Jesus Borges da Costa, Maria Sousa Arruda, Sandra Araújo dos Santos, Zenilda Maurício de Nascimento, Ani Caroline Wihbey, Júlia Depweg, Mary Alice Mc Cabe, Maria do Socorro Oliveria, Josineide Silva, Maryann Gillespie, Maria Tecla Gaia, Kátia Webster. 
Reaching the Borders for Refugee Women and Children
By Sisters Denise Curry, Therese (Tracy) Dill, Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN

 

During more than 200 years as a Congregation, we, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have been and are a strong presence in service to immigrants and refugees around the world. In the United States, with an increasing persecution of immigrants living in this country and the denial of entry to asylum seekers, our Sisters search for new ways to help peoples suffering under inhumane US immigration policies. The CARA Pro Bono Volunteer Project, established by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) with 3 other immigrant advocacy organizations provides a new opportunity to serve immigrant peoples.

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Sisters Denise Curry, Mary Alice McCabe and Tracy Dill, SNDdeN discuss plans for more Sisters to assist the refugees in the detention center.

In 2017, three of us, Sisters Denise Curry, Mary Alice McCabe and Therese (Tracy) Dill spent a week as CARA Project volunteers in Dilley, Texas at a “Family Residential Center,” under US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This privately-owned facility houses 2,400 refugee women and children. It is a detention center, filled to capacity with mothers and their children, fleeing from persecution in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. These mothers make this dangerous flight toward the US border in a desperate attempt to protect their children from violence and even death. In fact, these innocent women and children entering the USA find themselves in a prison which treats them like criminals and terrorists.

Volunteer Service

The CARA Project offers sensitive and compassionate legal assistance to these families. Spanish-speaking mothers prepare for interviews with ICE asylum officers in which they tell their distressing stories of persecution from either gang-related or domestic violence. As volunteers, we found a number of ways to help at the center. As interpreters in Spanish, we gave in-take talks for helping the women to understand the steps and to feel relaxed and safe in this asylum process. Meeting with each woman individually, we listened to her story and assisted her in preparing for her interview with an ICE asylum officer. We also assisted with the office work that needs to be done in order for the CARA lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services for the women.

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To serve the increasing numbers of asylum seekers at Dilley, the Project needs more volunteers: lawyers, paralegals and interpreters. Volunteers meet hundreds of mothers and children, thin, exhausted, and frightened, who have been walking and hiding for weeks. The women and children remain in detention in Dilley until ICE determines their fate. In the interview, the ICE asylum officer listens to the woman’s experience and decides whether or not the persecution in her country of origin is “credible” enough under US immigration law to allow her to seek asylum and stay in the US. The woman must tell her story of having been terrorized and traumatized, in a convincing manner. She must show that she has fled for her life and that return to her country would mean death. The stories are very disturbing: gangs kill family members, kidnap children, force men and teenage boys into gang “membership,” extort monthly payments from well-off and poor alike, abuse and rape girls. In domestic violence cases, women are beaten, treated as property, held captive, and receive death threats.

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STORIES IN CENTRAL AMERICA

In El Salvador: There is a knock on Marta’s door. A gang member demands: “We need your daughter to sell drugs for us. You have a day to decide.” Marta knows that weeks before, a neighbor’s son who refused a similar demand ended up dead. Marta’s brother who also refused recruitment was killed 2 years ago by the same gang. So Marta and her 13 year old daughter quickly pack and flee, before sunrise, toward the Mexican-USA border in a desperate hope to plea for asylum in the USA.

In Guatemala: Brenda hears that strange men in a black car are kidnapping little girls at the door of the local schoolhouse in the remote area of Guatemala where she lives. Mothers are frantic and the police do nothing to help. Brenda, a single mother, decides she has no choice but to flee with her little girl. She faces the dangerous flight to the Mexican-USA border and asks for asylum.

In Honduras: Manuel, a 15 year old, is forcibly recruited into a gang but manages to escape a few weeks later and go into hiding. The gang threatens to kill his mother, Carla, if she does not reveal his whereabouts. Carla’s family tells her to flee for her life. Within days she is on her way north to the border, with Manuel, when they get the horrifying news that her house had been burned down.

Future For Women And Children

A positive evaluation from the asylum officer is required for a mother and her children to be released from detention and sent on to their destination in the USA. A negative evaluation will send the mother and children into the deportation cycle, which in most cases, means a “death sentence.” CARA lawyers always appeal negative evaluations and do everything to give these women and children a chance at a new life.

A week with these mothers and children is an experience that shakes  one’s heart and soul in a unique way. We meet brave women from both cultures: Central American women struggling against all odds to protect their families, and North American women, volunteers, pro bono lawyers and our own Sisters committed to social justice and basic human rights for immigrant families. At this time, more Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are preparing for volunteer service at this detention center in Texas during the current year 2018.