Author, mainstream journalist, and human rights activist Binka Le Breton spoke about the life of Sister Dorothy Stang and her mission on Thursday, Feb. 14 in Bent Hall. The speech honored Sister Dorothy’s life and spread awareness about the inequality in Brazil, where she was a missionary.
Le Breton, author of “The Greatest Gift: The Courageous Life and Martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang,” stated that her book is the first biography written about Sister “Dot,” following her death in 2005.
Sister Dorothy devoted her life to creating equal rights and justice in Brazil for farm families living in the Amazon, Le Breton said.
Students who attended the presentation were inspired by Sister Dorothy’s biography.
“There’s a lot of evil in this world,” said education major Iris Cuesta. “It’s terrible that these people are suffering and not a lot is being done. Sister Dorothy chose to put herself in situations like poverty and made major steps in her life.”
Student Jane Yu was motivated by Sister Dorothy’s life. “It was really interesting because we’re going to college to make something of ourselves,” she said. “Hearing her [Le Breton] speak about Sister Dorothy just gives me hope that encourages me to follow what I want to do.”
Le Breton began to read from her book, stating that in 1948, at the age of 17 years old, Stang became a sister of Notre Dame; the sisters who had “hearts as big as the world,” according to her biography. Within five years, she earned a teaching degree and was sent to Arizona to work with Mexican and Navajo children, who lived in very poor conditions.
According to Le Breton, Sister Dorothy became known as “the ball of fire in a soothing gray garb” as she also helped families and working women, who carried their babies in cardboard boxes. Le Breton said that in 1966, Sister Dot had a great desire to move to Brazil, a country that was bigger than the contingent United States.
Additionally, the author explained that Sister Dorothy was most concerned with land reform and land grabbing. Le Breton stated that Sister Dorothy dealt with corruption within the government system, which was the cause of the land confusion.
Sister Dorothy wanted to fight for the farmers in the area who were beaten and killed for not giving up their land.
In 1982, Sister Dot moved to a small town in the Amazon, near the Trans-Amazon Highway to work with a human rights organization to protect poor farmers and their lands from loggers and land developers.
“She saw her job as support for the farm families and teaching them to work for social justice,” she added.
According to Le Breton’s biography, Sister Dorothy once said, “If it means to give my life, I have to give up my life.”
Later, Sister Dorothy also testified at a government panel about “investigating illegal incursions into protected areas.” According to Le Breton’s book, she was named a terrorist by the government for helping to fight for the justice of farm families and as a result, created many enemies and received death threats.
According to the author, in 2004, a “death list” was published in Brazil’s newspapers, which also circulated on the Internet.
Sister Dorothy was second on the list with a price of $25,000, six times the average yearly income in Brazil.
Le Breton recalled that Sister Dorothy did not give up despite the threats.
She read from her book that Sister Dorothy always said, “They’ll never have the courage to kill an elderly nun like me.”
Le Breton continued speaking about Sister Dorothy’s life, saying that she finally received the papers for the peasant farmers to own their land.
She realized that her life work was finally coming together.
According to Le Breton, however, Sister Dorothy knew that her death was near. Despite this, she made her way to the peasant farmers with the papers and was confronted by two gunmen in the Amazon Jungle.
In the midst of the tension, Sister Dorothy took out the Bible and read the Gospel of Matthew as her “weapon.” Le Breton explained that the gunmen did not move and shot her at point blank range and then five more times.
She added, “The silence of the forest was disrupted by a gunshot,” The murder was only witnessed by one of the settlers, who testified against the gunmen.
Le Breton said that Sister Dorothy’s legacy lives on “through every tree planted and every child enrolled in school.”