by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Like so many others, we at the Assisi Community where Sister Dianna Ortiz was a valued member for the last 25 years, have been overwhelmed by the national and international importance of Dianna’s life. People of faith, of little or even no faith, have expressed in phone calls, texts, emails, and of course in public statements, how influential this Catholic nun – always the Catholic nun – was on them personally and publicly. One cannot say enough about her enormous impact.
In addition to all that Dianna did in her relatively short life, she has left unfinished business. This was only to be expected. As stated in a famous pastoral prayer:
“We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work…
Nothing we do is complete.
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities…
We cannot do everything…
We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Dianna’s work continues. The United States still uses torture as an instrument of information-gathering, or punishment for women and men whom we judge as a threat to “our way of life”. Dianna’s horrific experience of torture took place in 1989 and her towering public witness to its significance continued for the rest of her life. However, our country has continued to allow the scandalous and entirely illegal imprisonment of supposed authors of 9/11 who have languished without due process for nearly 20 years in Guantanamo, Cuba.
Today we are seeing acts of torture by policemen on U.S. streets and indescribable physical and emotional violations of immigrants at our Southern border, including the forced separation of little immigrant children from their parents.
On another policy level and incredibly, Ms. Gina Haspel, who oversaw a CIA “black site of enhanced interrogation techniques” in Thailand, has served as Director of that agency since 2018. That seems to say that torture enjoys some sort of official tolerance in the United States.
So Dianna has left an enormous task for us.
Providentially, in the past several years a kind of blueprint for the continuation of that work is at hand. Its genesis emerged from an initiative of Pax Christi International that gathered witnesses to violence — including torture — at a meeting held in the Vatican five years ago. (As a community member with PCI’s Marie Dennis, Dianna knew everything about the effort and applauded it.) The results of that meeting developed into what now is called the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI) which has stretched across the world and reached the highest levels of the Church.
The concept of the CNI is straightforward but needs to be clear. Nonviolence is a spirituality, a way of life, a proven-effective method for achieving social and ecological justice, and a universal ethic at the heart of peace. Nonviolence is broader than pacifism or simply the refusal to do harm. Instead, nonviolence is a courageous way of life that actively challenges violence and all forms of injustice with love. It is a strong conviction; an all-embracing mindset (think of the violence done to Mother Earth); a lifetime call to conversion leading to action at every level of human experience: personal, communal, local, regional, national and international. Nonviolence names a core teaching of Jesus: the thorough rejection of violence combined with the prophetic power of unconditional love.
This blueprint, so in line with the Pax Christi vision, has been discussed in great detail during the past five years and set out in what might be called a guide for its implementation. Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World, published by Pax Christi International in 2020, is fitting nourishment for us this Lent as we mourn the passing of our sister, Dianna.
She knew her Latinx custom of adding “Presente” after naming a departed loved one. I believe the word means not only that the person is with us but that it’s a pledge to continue their work.
Therefore, today and always: Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU – Presente!
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.