NewsEventsOther Romeros: Dianna Ortiz

Other Romeros: Dianna Ortiz

Saint Oscar Romero spoke truth to power in the midst of enormous violence against the poor while he was reviled and defamed about by the institutions of Salvadoran society, including the press, government, and fellow clergy.  A shy, careful man, his transformation can inspire us.  Yet he is not the only witness to truth in a time of “fake news” serving powerful interests. If we look around, we can find many others who inspire us to go on, to not give up, never mind living a life so loving it can be a force for changing it all. 

These are persons, not necessarily recognized officially as saints—or as professing Christians—who inspire us to “live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.”  Many of them laid down their lives for their friends, what Jesus himself said was the greatest form of love.  Others put aside their own interests and use all their talents and creativity to make life better for others.  All of them shared a common belief that the true meaning of their lives was found in something greater than themselves.  They inspire us.

Like Romero, most of their lives they did or do not garner big headlines by and large, are unknown to history as written by the powerful, and are as flawed as any of us.  We can relate to them and take hope that we too can be witnesses that can, yes, inspire others.

“To this day, I can smell the decomposing of bodies, disposed of in an open pit. I can hear the piercing screams of other people being tortured. I can see the blood gushing out of the woman’s body.”

Dianna Ortiz was an Ursuline sister from the US who in 1989 was abducted, tortured, and gang-raped by Guatemalan security forces.  The trauma left her with no memory of her life before torture and psychological and spiritual wounds that she suffered with in one way or another for the rest of her life.  However, she turned her pain into action, founding the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)

A coalition which continues to support, aid and seek justice for some of the estimated 500,000 torture victims from all over the world who have found asylum in the US.  At the same time, she was a strong advocate for holding  torturers accountable.  She explained what motivated her to commit herself to a path that had great personal cost:

I cannot forget those who suffered with me and died in that clandestine prison. In spite of the humiliation that demanding answers has entailed, I stand with the Guatemalan people. I demand the right to a future built on truth and justice. My torturers were never brought to justice. It is possible that, individually, they will never be identified or apprehended. But I cannot resign myself to this fact and move on. I have a responsibility to the people of Guatemala and to the people of the world to insist on accountability where it is possible. I know what few U.S. citizens know: what it is to be an innocent civilian, and to be accused, interrogated, and tortured, to have my own government eschew my claims for justice and actively destroy my character because my case causes political problems for them. I know what it is to wait in the dark for torture, and what it is to wait in the dark for the truth. I am still waiting.

Until her death from cancer at age 62 on February 19, 2021, some considered her a living martyr.  She was serving as Pax Christi USA’s Deputy Director at the time she died.  Because her unending recovery from her trauma took place in a world in which social media became prevalent, much of her work and personal battle is chronicled online in newspaper articles, videos, photos, and other digital formats.  Perhaps the most compelling is a video of her recounting of her experience as a torture victim and how she struggled with the aftermath to an audience in New Zealand in 2007.   It can be seen in its entirety here.

Resources on Dianna Ortiz, OSU

  • An interview with her that summarizes well her experience here.
  • The Blindfold’s Eye: My Journey from Torture to Truth is her memoir, available from both Amazon and Orbis Books (Maryknoll).
  • reflection on her passing from Pax ChristiFalling into the arms of a loving God.
  • Dianna’s community, the Ursuline Sisters of Mt. St. Joseph, has posted this obituary of her.
  • See photos of Dianna, links to more information about her life, interviews and more at this link.
  • Dianna’s obituary in The Washington Post can be read here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More articles