Feast of Dianna Ortiz (September 2)   3 comments

Above:  Map of Central America

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

DIANNA MAE ORTIZ (SEPTEMBER 2, 1958-FEBRUARY 19, 2021)

U.S. Roman Catholic Nun and Anti-Torture Activist

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

In spite of the memories of humiliation, I stand with the people of Guatemala.  I demand the right to heal and to know the truth.  I demand the right to a resurrection.

–Sister Dianna Ortiz, Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C., Palm Sunday, March 31, 1996; quoted in Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday, eds., Cloud of Witnesses, 2nd. ed. (2005), 42

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

From the brokenness and pain of her torture and its aftermath, beauty and joy emerged.  She modeled the gentle strength of non-violence and the deep compassion for others reflected in Catholic Social Teaching.

–Jane Deren on Sister Dianna Ortiz, 2021

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

My policy here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS is almost always to cap content at a PG rating.  This post exceeds that rating.  Certain details are both essential and extremely disturbing.  At least as disturbing are the human capacities for cruelty and subsequent obfuscation.

Sister Dianna Ortiz comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via Wallis and Hollyday, eds., Cloud of Witnesses, 2nd. ed. (2005).

Ortiz dedicated her life to serving God, present in the vulnerable, powerless, and voiceless.  She, born to Ambroshia “Amby” Ortiz and Pilar Ortiz, Sr., on September 2, 1958, was one of eight children.  Our saint, born in Colorado Springs, grew up in Grants, New Mexico.  Ortiz became a postulant (1977) then a full member (1978) of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.  She taught at Immaculate Conception High School, Hawesville, Kentucky (1983-1985), then at Blessed Mother School (1985-1987).

Above:  The Flag of Guatemala

Image in the Public Domain

Then Ortiz went to Guatemala in 1987.  There she taught Mayan children in the highlands.  The Guatemalan government placed our saint under surveillance for allegedly meeting with subversives.  She received many threats and moved around, out of caution.  The Guatemalan government, with the backing of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), tortured alleged subversives.  The Cold War made for morally unsavory bedfellows and the betrayal of American high principles in the name of fighting communists, real or imagined.

On November 2, 1989, Guatemalan security forces abducted our saint, whom they had mistaken for Veronica Ortiz Hernandez, allegedly a subversive.  In the presence of an American, “Alejandro,” these Guatemalans burned Ortiz’s chest and back hundreds of times with cigarettes and repeatedly gang-raped her.  They broke the nun, impregnated her, and forced her to kill another female prisoner with a machete.  Then “Alejandro,” citing the fight against communism, tried to blackmail Ortiz into forgiving her attackers.  If she did not, he said, he or they would release the photographic evidence (which they had) of the nun killing the other prisoner.  These attackers also threw the nun into a pit full of bloody corpses, some of them decapitated.  “Alejandro,” who realized that the Guatemalan security forces had abducted the wrong Ortiz and swore when he first understood this, wore dark glasses and a wig.  He had an American accent and spoke, broken Spanish yet fluent American English.

Ortiz, detained for a day, visited a Guatemalan doctor before immediately returning to the United States of America.  She was so traumatized that she did not remember her life prior to November 2.  Guatemalan and U.S. officials minimized what had happened to our saint.  After a doctor in the United States counted 111 cigarette burns on Ortiz’s back alone, our saint’s story received more factual support.  In January 1990, the Guatemalan defense and interior ministers, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, played the homophobic card.  They tried to defame Ortiz by calling her a lesbian, as if that would make the torture less egregious.

Ortiz spent years rebuilding her life and recovering memories of her life pre-November 2, 1989.  She never recovered all of these memories.  Ortiz, realizing that she was pregnant, had an abortion.  Later, she wrote that she felt she had no choice and was not proud of that decision. Official U.S. denial of involvement in the rape and torture did not help Ortiz recover.  Repeated Freedom of Information Act requests led to various results, from refusal to pages full mostly blacked-out text.  The most honest response Ortiz received face-to-face came from First Lady Hillary Clinton, who admitted that a U.S. agent was probably involved.  Ortiz’s international legal case resulted in the verdict that the government used torture.  Yet nobody directly involved faced any legal consequences.

Ortiz became an activist against torture and for victims of torture, as well as against human trafficking and for victims thereof.  She was a grassroots organizer for the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (1994-2000).  In 1998, she founded the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition.  She, with Patricia Davis, wrote The Blindfold’s Eyes:  My Journey from Torture to Truth (2002).  Our saint also testified before Congress and opposed the post-9/11 use of “enhanced interrogation.”  Ortiz worked for Pax Christi (2010-2012), first as the Interim Director then as the Deputy Director.  After serving at the Education for Justice project at the Center for Concern (2012-2018), our saint returned to Pax Christi as the Deputy Director in March 2020.

Telling her story was extremely difficult for Ortiz.  Yet she did so out of the conviction that she should be a voice for the voiceless.  After each lecture, Ortiz could not sleep for several nights.  Furthermore, she suffered flashbacks and had to spend a week in bed.

Ortiz contracted COVID-19 in 2020.  She never fully recovered from the virus.  What she initially thought to be lingering effects of COVID-19 turned out to be inoperable cancer.  Our saint, knowing that she had a few months left to live, put her affairs in order, said her goodbyes, and spoke of reuniting with her beloved father in Heaven.  Ortiz’s mother and siblings were with her in Washington, D.C., when she died on February 19, 2021.  Our saint was 62 years old.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

MONDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF ANDRÉ, MAGDA, AND DANIEL TROCMÉ, RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF EMILY AYCKBOWM, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF THE CHURCH

THE FEAST OF MARIANO DE LA MATA APARICIO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN BRAZIL

THE FEAST OF PAULINE SPERRY, U.S. MATHEMATICIAN, PHILANTHROPIST, AND ACTIVIST; AND HER BROTHER, WILLARD LEAROYD SPERRY, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ETHICIST, THEOLOGIAN, AND DEAN OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM DERHAM, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCIENTIST

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant Sister Dianna Ortiz]

to use our freedom to bring justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

3 responses to “Feast of Dianna Ortiz (September 2)

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pingback: Side Effects of Hagiography | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Thank you for sharing this difficult information. I found your site searching for reviews of the Babylon 5 episode Signs and Portents. While I have not yet found that post of yours in the WP Reader, I am glad to have found your more recent posts here, and learned from them.
    Best Regards,
    -Shira

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: