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The Cruel Torments Inflicted on the Distinguished Servant of God Fray Diego Ortiz

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A long time ago, at the beginning of the year 1569, Augustinian missionaries evangelized the Vilcabamba region near Cusco, Peru. Fray Diego Ruiz Ortiz arrived there to participate in their mission. From the chronicles of that religious family, we extract this story, forgotten by men, but not by God.

Vilcabamba today

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A few years after Fray Diego’s arrival, the Inca Tito Cusi – who had abjured Christianity some time earlier, returned to his old pagan customs, and instigated hostility towards the missionaries who dared to reprimand him for his vices – died suddenly. Renegades attributed his death to a curse from Fray Diego.

One night, seething with fury, they decided to take revenge and went in droves to the church where the religious was praying.

By way of greeting, he received a fierce barrage of slaps, was hit and kicked in the chest, back, and all his limbs. They called him a deceiver and demoniac and demanded that he bring the Inca back to life just as he preached the resurrection of the dead; otherwise, he would be killed as a liar. Finally, they stripped him and left him out in the cold throughout the night.

At dawn, the Augustinian told his torturers that if they let him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice he would ask God to have the Inca resurrected. They agreed, but, since the Mass took time the apostate Juan Quispe, irritated, slapped him saying, “Finish now, you liar!”

Father Ortiz patiently and devoutly lowered his eyes to the Blessed Sacrament, exclaiming, “Blessed be Thou, o God.” At that point, Quispe’s sacrilegious hand dried out and stayed that way for the rest of his 56 years, testifying to this miracle. However, far from being appeased, the crowd became even more enraged.

When the Mass was over, they rushed him and beat him to exhaustion. They dragged him to the cemetery, tied him to a cross, and whipped him until blood had spilled all over his body. Others, profaning the church vestments and drinking chicha in the sacred vessels, caused greater moral pains than his horrendous physical sufferings.

Bleeding and thirsty, he asked for water, as had Our Lord on the Cross; but the apostates, following the way of the deicides, threw gall, salt, urine, nitrate, excrement and a very bitter grass into a container and made him drink that filthy potion.

Then they decided to take him before the new Inca, Tupac Amaru, brother of Cusi Tito. However, as the martyr could barely stand, they devised a new atrocity in order to force him to walk: they pierced his face and tied a rope to it, dragged him as if he were a beast of burden. Thus they made the long journey to Marcanay, where the Inca resided.

It was about 60 kilometers away, but the path was very rough. The whole trip was a frightful martyrdom. On the way, they passed through Guarancalla, where Friar Diego’s mission was located, but none of his people lent him relief for fear of the Inca: fearful people existed even in missions…

On the third day, the cortege arrived where the Inca Tupac Amaru resided.  According to the Augustinian chronicles, he did not receive the religious but ordered his subjects to kill him in whatever way they wanted. After hearing the sentence, the torturers dragged the missionary down the hill to a place known at that time as the “Fork of the Inca”.

There they flogged him again, insulted him unspeakably, and seeing that he did not die, decided to bludgeon him to death. However, seeking to make them come into their senses, realize the sin they were committing and how virtuous their victim was, God miraculously kept him alive.

They stuck reeds between the nails of his feet and hands. Amazed by his resistance, they began to say, “manan huañunca“, that is, he would not die because he was immortal. Enraged, they decided to finish him with arrows, riddling his body in such a way that he looked like a hedgehog. However, the more ferocious the torments, the greater the miracle of his survival: “manan huañunca”.

Blinded with fury at his resistance, they tried to suffocate him with smoke and disgusting incense. They covered his mouth and nose with hot cotton and grated his flesh. Juan Tupac struck his head with an ax, making the martyr fall senseless. However, “manan huañunca” …

In an extreme paroxysm of fury, another executioner dealt him a second blow that broke his skull. With this, they consummated his martyrdom, but their atrocities did not end. Putting him upside down, they pierced a stick through his body until it stuck out of his shattered skull by more than ten inches. They nailed him on the ground and threw stones at him until he was half-buried.

Since the words “manan huañunca” continued to resonate and torment the consciences of the torturers, they uncovered the missionary’s body to see if he was really dead. They threw him on the ground and forced everyone to trample him. Believing he was still alive, as his cadaverous eyes kept looking at the sky, one of the executioners cut off his head and buried it in a hole, putting his body on top and covering it with stones.

His death occurred between May and July 1571.

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The punishment of the criminals was not long in coming, both from heaven and temporal authorities. Plagues and misery beset Vilcabamba, and when Viceroy Francisco de Toledo went to Cusco on July 30, 1571, he ordered an attack on the Inca’s redoubt. The Inca was baptized, taken prisoner and executed in the city’s Plaza Mayor.

Bishop Antonio de Raya reported on the life and martyrdom of Fray Diego Ortiz to promote his elevation to the altars. The venerable is considered the first martyr of Peru, and his sacrifice undoubtedly obtained huge graces from God for the Christianization of the country. His remains, taken to Cusco, were devoutly kept in the Church of St. Augustine in that city until shortly after 1821.

That church was destroyed, the memory of and veneration for Fray Diego Ortiz vanished in the population until his remains disappeared. This is a sign of advancing neo-paganism, with its sequels of nostalgia for barbarism. Lukewarm Catholics and enemies of the faith show indifference and even annoyance with a martyr who carried the virtue of faith so far as to accept, like the Divine Savior, his own blood to be shed precisely by those he longed to convert.

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Since Peruvians have forgotten this famous martyr, is it any wonder that indigenism and misery – an effect of people’s preference for barbarism, are seizing modern mentalities? How can people defend their country when they forget about its main protectors and admire its demolishers?

What would happen to France, for example, the day she lost memory of Saint Remigius, Clovis, Saint Louis the King, Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Joan of Arc and began evoking with veneration Vercingetórix, Ganelon , Phillippe Egalité or, after a fashion, Pétain? What would happen to Spain if it forgot Saint Hermenegildo, Don Pelayo, Saint Ferndinand of Castile, Cid Campeador, Isabel the Catholic, and began to admire bishops like Opas or Recafredo, king Alphonso VI, the communist “Pasionaria”, or to pity Boabdil?

Once again, this fact is a matter to ponder for today’s Catholics and an element to understand where sheer forgetfulness can lead when it affects those chosen by God…

* This article was first published in 1992 under the pen name Elías Huanca Y., in the section “Cultura y Tradición” of the news bulletin “Tradición Familia Propiedad” nº 15, Lima, p. 6-7.

At that time, the Holy See had granted the nihil obstat for reopening the canonical process of the Servant of God Fray Diego Ruiz Ortiz, OSA. The new process went forward in Cusco and Lima between 1996 and 1998 and was then presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which on April 30, 1999 issued a decree validating the diocesan process.

In 2021, it will 450 years since the sacrifice of Venerable Fr. Ortiz, the first of a number of martyrs who gave their lives between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries to spread the Catholic faith in the Peruvian Amazon region. His faithful devotees are longing for his speedy beatification.

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