Beliefnet
In November 1989, Ursuline sister and American citizen Dianna Ortiz was abducted in Antigua, Guatemala, and brutally tortured. After escaping--with over 100 cigarette burns on her back--she returned to the U.S. In the years following, she worked to demand the declassification of material related to her case, and founded the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition. Here, she recounts her spiritual journey over the past 14 years, as narrated in her recent book "The Blindfold's Eyes."

In your book, you say that one of your torturers told you "your God isdead." And for many years after your horrific ordeal, you write that yourfaith was tremendously shaken--understandably. What was your concept of God before the torture and in the first few years after the torture?

I imagine I viewed God as the protector, the shepherd who guided his sheep and protected them from danger. If they were faced with danger, the shepherd would not abandon them but shelter them and give them the strength to face whatever was to come. I made the decision to stay in Guatemala. I was convinced that despite the death threats, nothing would ever shake my faith.But on Nov. 2, 1989, the day of my abduction, I realized how wrong I was. Because in that clandestine prison, held hostage by evil in human form, my faith crumbled as if it were nothing more than a sandcastle hit by a giant wave. It was simply washed away. The Policeman told me that my God was dead, and he was right, because in that clandestine prison God died and I died as well. It would be years later that I would come to understand that God was very much alive in that dark, cold, clandestine prison. I believe God had made Herself known to me through the visit of a fly, as well as through other things.

Could you talk a little more about the fly?At one point, I was left in the cell by myself and just felt so alone, completely estranged from God and the human family. I don't know if you've ever experienced total silence. I know silence is good, it's healthy. Silence, I've learned through the years, is a way to quiet oneself, to refocus, to encounter God. But the type of silence that I experienced in that cell-I don't know how to describe it. The only thing that comes to mind is just being in presence of evil, where there's nothing that represents life or goodness. And being immersed in that type of "environment" is enough to drive a person mad.But there was a point when I heard the buzzing of a fly.

And that was sound breaking through.Yes. And for me it was almost like music. To help me come back to reality and not to lose hope.[On that day], there was a part of me that fought so hard not to break down in tears. I didn't want my perpetrators to get the best of me. But eventually I did break down. And the fly returned. I know this sounds odd, but just having the fly on my cheek by my eye-it was like the fly was wiping my tears.And to me that represented-seen years later-that perhaps that was God. God's presence there. So for me today flies are very sacred.A striking part of your book describes attending the Stations of the Cross a few months after your abduction. You asked yourself "why are we adoring this act of torture?" Yet later you seemed to be able to identify your own ordeal in Christ's suffering, and to have found some solace in that. To the best of my knowledge, Christianity is the only religion founded in the name of someone who was tortured. Jesus prayed to have the cup taken from him, but it wasn't--for a reason. I prayed not to be tortured. I prayed to die. And I still recall crying out to God, "Why have you betrayed me?" And slowly there evolved in me the feeling that perhaps I had not been betrayed, that perhaps I was tortured and survived for a reason. This didn't happen overnight. I was angry with God for a long, long time. It was years before I began speaking to God again or perhaps listening to God again.In describing the ripple effects of torture, you say it breaks faith withthe whole world, destroying a fundamental kind of trust between people.The human race is a web of interconnection. For those of us who have survived torture, we've seen with our own eyes how torture tears apart these webs of relationships, by planting seeds of terror, indifference, and numbness. When that happens, we live with the reality that the worst form of brutality can happen to anyone at any time for no reason at all, other than to terrorize. A society where trust is destroyed loses its very humanity. There is no place for the spiritual. The very foundation of human decency has been shredded.

In your book, you repudiate a facile reference to"turning the other cheek." Many people say there are unforgivable crimes.How do you respond to people who talk to you about forgiveness?

I cringe inside. I am often asked if I've forgiven my torturers, and I find it of interest that many people are fascinated with this issue. Forgiveness is a complex issue, one that I'm not sure I fully understand. Furthermore, I'm not sure if we as a people know what it is to forgive. I'm frequently told, "Dianna, you need to forgive, and then you will be healed." First, I think it's important to comment on the issue of healing. As I say in the book, no one ever fully recovers from torture--not the one who is tortured and not the one who tortures. Forgiveness does not just happen. It's a process that happens gradually when a person is ready-spiritually, mentally, and physically. It is a process that in some circumstances calls for directly confronting one's perpetrators or offenders. Well-intentioned people have said "You, as a Catholic nun, have the responsibility of setting a good example by forgiving your torturers." It's also been suggested to me that by not forgiving my torturers, I will not heal, that I will become a bitter and spiteful person.Years have gone by since my torture, and I'm still unable to say if I have forgiven my torturers. Do I feel guilty? Yeah. I have a wonderful case of Catholic guilt. However, the fact that I'm able to acknowledge this truth to myself and to God has been great. Guilt no longer has a death grip on me.At this time in my life, forgiveness for my torturers is irrelevant. What does matter is that I focus my energy on confronting torture, working to end it.Forgiveness is only one third of the equation. Truth and justice are the other elements. When we are told the truth about the torturers and those who give them their orders, maybe I'll be able to start talking about forgiveness. Torture is done by governments. It's part of the system. I may know how to forgive individuals, but how do you forgive a system? How do you forgive people who have committed horrible crimes and don't believe they've done anything wrong?
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