The Common Good
July-August 1996

A Community's Embrace

by Joe Nangle | July-August 1996

When the reporter asked, “Why do you believe Sister Dianna’s story?” I replied without
hesitation.

When the reporter asked, “Why do you believe Sister Dianna’s story?” I replied without hesitation. “Observe her in community and see the darkness overtake this young, bright woman when something triggers a memory of her ordeal.”

Her inhuman torture in a Guatemalan hell is well documented. What is nearly incredible to us who see her day in and day out is Dianna’s absolute refusal to let victimhood or her agony block her efforts to stop torture in Guatemala and around the world—and stop U.S. involvement in it. In the two years she has graced our community, the rest of us have become engaged in her struggle. We are all the better for the experience.

As Dianna made her presence and experience felt among us, our circle’s daily prayer began to include prayers to God about torture victims all over the world. As she integrated into the community, we saw the life-loving person that she is, with her sisterly appreciation for the young people in our group, a keen interest in the garden she and others cultivated, the meals she prepared carefully with little touches that said, “I love this community.”

We saw that what Dianna really struggled for was “life in evermore abundance.” We celebrated and joined her.

In the past months, we embraced her frustrated, public outcry for some information from our silent government. Those endless hours she sat in Lafayette Park, the cold, wet spring nights, went by with community members and others alongside Dianna in her silent plea for a crumb of satisfaction, a sliver of information, a bit of news from high-level investigations.

When Dianna increased the pressure on official Washington, declaring a bread and water fast, our best cook daily supplied the three slices of fresh-baked bread. We wept together as we saw her thin body lose 25 pounds.

With Dianna’s permission, the community decided to make our own demands on her behalf. Various members coordinated the logistics of civil disobedience in front of the White House—information on the scores of friends and acquaintances willing to risk arrest, lodging for out-of-towners, prayers at the beginning of each demonstration, negotiations with the police, cars to pick up the demonstrators after release from jail. The community house became a merry-go-round of comings and goings.

On the evening that Dianna declared an end to her vigil and fast, we shared the Eucharist in our home, the best celebration ever in a community used to celebrating. We sang our signature hymn, the old Quaker song “How Can I Keep From Singing?”, with its ever so appropriate verse: “In dungeons deep and prisons vile, our thoughts to them are winging. When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?”

JOE NANGLE, O.F.M., is a member, with Dianna Ortiz, of Assisi Community in Washington, D.C.

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