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by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

To write about the final days of Sister Dianna Ortiz’s life is beyond sad. For those who have not heard, Dianna passed away early this morning after a short illness; my apologies for conveying word of it in such an impersonal way.

Actually, her illness and devastating diagnosis of an inoperable cancer has taken place almost too quickly to comprehend at this moment. Three weeks ago a member of our Assisi Community – of which Dianna has been a part for 25 years – insisted that she go to an emergency room for persistent and increasingly painful stomach pain. In rapid succession, Dianna was hospitalized, discovered to have a serious abdominal blockage and biopsied, revealing the cancer. She was designated for chemotherapy to reduce the tumor but when her symptoms continued to increase, she underwent surgery and the inoperable status of the cancer was discovered. All in less than three weeks!

It is said that our parents’ final legacy is their acceptance of death. Surely this can be said of anyone close to us who walks bravely through the dying process. It is most certainly true in the case of our dear sister – friend – community member – and exemplar. After the initial shock of this rapid series of events, Dianna seemed to call on a deep well of faith, acceptance and resignation as she faced the inevitability of her situation.

No doubt all of us who have known Dianna from the time of her horrendous experience in Guatemala were not only shocked but near desperation thinking of this still-young loved one having to suffer in another terrible way. Once again, our question is: Why, Why O God!

But as the last few days of relative comfort unfolded and we were able to visit Dianna in the hospital, all of us came away awed by her serene state of mind, especially her concern for loved ones – her elderly mother and extended family in New Mexico, dear friends in her Ursuline religious community, and the wide, wide circle of those who had walked with her on her amazing journey. She made good-bye phone calls to as many as possible of those special people as her strength permitted during those few precious hours before she was no longer able to do so.

One shining moment sums up for me Dianna’s everlasting legacy to all of us. On Sunday, February 14, the doctors advised Marie Dennis and me that as soon as possible we should celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick with her. Let me first say that this encounter with the Lord reveals something of the unimaginable beauty in His loving care for us. To quote just one of the consoling and encouraging prayers of this Sacrament which sums up that beauty: “Father in heaven, through this holy anointing grant our dear Dianna comfort in her suffering. When she is afraid, give her courage; when afflicted, give her patience; when dejected, afford her hope; and when alone, assure her of the support of your holy people. We ask this in the name of Him who also walked this path, Christ, Our Savior.”

Dianna received our anointing with attention and gratitude. She repeatedly spoke of conversations she was having with God, and her abiding conviction that He/She is Mercy itself and gave thanks for the numerous people who had graced her life. Literally she ministered to Marie and to me, who had gone to be ministers for her. Personally, as a priest for many years and having been at the bedside of countless numbers of dying people, I never experienced what I did that Sunday morning. God for me was almost palpably present thanks to the spirit of this dear person who has now left us.

The great 20th century theologian, Karl Rahner, was asked near the end of his life if he still believed all the things he had written about God. His answer helps us appreciate what we were witnessing as Dianna Ortiz passes from this life into eternity. He said: “One thing I’m sure of – that when I die I will fall into the arms of a loving God.”

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Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

20 thoughts on “Falling into the arms of a loving God: Remembering the last days of Dianna Ortiz, OSU

  1. So sad to hear of Dianna’s untimely passing. Your reflection of her last weeks is moving. May she rest in the loving presence of our gracious God. Thank you for sharing, Joe.

  2. My heartfelt condolences to all who knew this beautiful soul, the presence of Jesus was undoubtedly with her and you Father in her final moments

  3. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Father Joe. My prayers are with you, Marie and Dianna’s other friends. She is surely in the arms of God.

  4. Thank you Joe. It is so moving to read these words from friends I know were so special to Dianna. I am consoled that she left all the suffering and scars behind and flew into the arm of God like that butterfly in the picture. Thank you all for loving her. Sister Michele Morek OSU

  5. Joe, thanks so much for your beautiful and moving account of Dianna’s final days. I was utterly shocked and saddened to learn of her passing, especially since I had been following her essays coming out from Pax Christi and obviously had no idea of her acute medical situation. May she indeed rest in the arms of a loving God.

  6. Dianna was the most innocent of people and of victims when I met her shortly after she came to DC after her unfathomable experience. Instead or perhaps through the process of coming to terms with this, and seeking to use her experience to help others, it became clear that she was the most strong of character. I was honored to know her and to try to help in my small ways. She was a mensch. Kit Gage, former board chair, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

  7. Joe thank you for your beautiful words for Dianna. I didn’t know her but knew her story and the suffering she endured. I am saddened to hear of her passing but know that she is with her loving God, where she will never again know such pain. My condolences to all your community members and all who loved her.
    Richard McFeely, OFM

  8. My deepest sympathy to Assisi Community, to Dianna’s family and friends. How can anyone far or near forget her willpower and purity, when she claimed “her right” to her resurrection? Praise God for her and for the resurrection she inherited.

  9. Thank you Fr. Joe for sharing this beautiful account of Sr. Dianna’s passing. Her life, her faith, her witness is beyond inspiring. Having lost my son, Patrick suddenly four months ago, I fully understand the shock and acute grief which accompanies the unexpected and premature death of a cherished person. Falling into the arms of our loving God…brings comfort to all who remain on this plane.

  10. God bless our good sister, Dianna. She used her own pain to heal the wounds of others who suffer. We can only be grateful for such a profound witness. May Dianna live forever in the arms of God.

  11. My prayers and heart are with you and your community Fr Joe, I was blessed to have met Diana when I was in DC those years ago during my reentry at Franciscan Mission Service with you. May you feel Jesus’ peace.

  12. As I fight my own Lung Cancer, I find comfort and GODs mercy in Sr Ortiz courage and complete surrender to GODs will

  13. I never met Dianna, but I followed her since I learned through Joe and Marie the torture she underwent, and then her difficult and brave recovery through the loving hands of the Assisi Community and Pax Christi friends, and most of all the contributions she made over the years toward the work for peace in this battered world of ours. Her power to continue that work is surely so much stronger now in the loving arms of God.

  14. I hope that Pax Christi and other organizations and people who knew Sister Ortiz will petition Congress and the president to reopen her case. The Guatemalan and CIA officers who killed her should be brought to justice.

  15. Thank you, Joe, for this heartwarming account of Dianna’s final days. I extend my deep condolences to you and all in the Assisi community. As I remember her, I’m reminded of a quote from Antoine Boyeua who wrote “a luminous light remains where a beautiful soul has passed.” Dianna’s light was large, luminous and lovely. May her light continue to shine in the hearts of those who love her, and may it glow in the lives of those she touched with her courageous witness.

  16. Joe, thank you so much for sharing this moving reflection on Sr. Dianna’s final days. Many of us learned of the tragic events of her time in Guatemala through the programs of JustFaith Ministries and were touched not only by her pain but by her grace and perseverance. My condolences go out to her family, members of the Assisi community where she lived and all those who knew and loved her.

  17. Dear Joseph, I never met DiAnna, but followed her Unbelievable Journey through pain and suffering through the NCR while I was serving in Peru.Thank you for posting and sharing her last days here on earth, and may she be at peace with our Resurrected Lord Jesus.
    Paul Frechette SM

  18. I am currently experiencing deep grief over Dianna’s death. I first met her shortly after her return from Guatemala when she was able to describe the details of that horrible ordeal. (we need to keep in mind that her suffering was the result of management from America. The American military leadership that enabled this to happen were most likely controlled by the big money people in the U.S.who profited from matters agrarian.) Her courageous life and now her dying will always inspire me.

  19. Dear Joe and Marie, I am sorry to read about your/our loss. My eyes are filled with tears of sadness and gratitude for such a loving person who gave birth to our God over and over in her life. I am also grateful to the two of you and the rest of the Assisi community for your witness of a loving God. I am sure she is still walking with you all. I love you. Br Joe Kotula, ofm

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