By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Ingrid Betancourt, who was recently freed after six years of captivity by Colombian rebels, said she prayed the rosary on wooden beads she made in the jungle and attributes her release to the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
The 46 year old Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician and practicing Catholic, described her release in a bloodless operation by the Colombian army as a “miracle of the Virgin Mary.”
During her return trip to France, she said it was only her Catholic faith and thoughts of her family that sustained her through the ordeal that began with her capture in 2002.
“I was in chains all the time, 24 hours a day, for three years,” she told Europe1 radio. “I tried to wear those chains with dignity, even if I felt that it was unbearable.”
Asked whether she had been tortured, she said, “Yes, yes,” and said her captors had fallen into “diabolical behavior . . . It was so monstrous, I think they themselves were disgusted.”
She called her rescue “a miracle of the Virgin Mary” and said “You need tremendous spirituality to stop yourself falling into the abyss.”
She prayed on a wooden rosary she made for herself in the jungle.
Later, speaking at the Élysée Palace in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Betancourt said the jungle was “an absolutely hostile world.” She described “no sun, no sky, a green ceiling – it was too much, it was too much, a wall of trees, a lot of insects, each more dreadful than the next.”
She said she had walked perhaps 300 kilometers, or 185 miles, a year.
“I walked with a hat pulled down over my ears because all sorts of things fall on your head – ants that bite you, insects, lice, ticks – with gloves because everything in the jungle bites,” she said. “Each time you try to grab on to something so that you don’t fall, you’ve put your hand on a tarantula, you’ve put your hand on a thorn, a leaf that bites. It’s an absolutely hostile world, dangerous with dangerous animals.
“But the most dangerous of all was man – those who were behind me with their big guns.”
Betancourt was one of 14 hostages rescued during a daring coup involving military spies who tricked the rebels into handing over their much prized hostages without firing a shot. Posing as aid workers, rescuers arrived on the scene wearing Che Guevara t-shirts and even the hostages believed they were really rebels in disguise. It was not until they were airborne that rescuers announced, “We’re the national army. You’re free.”
Three Americans were also freed after being held for more than five years. Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell, employees of the U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman, were all found to be in good health.
The rescue was considered to be a huge triumph for Colombian President Alvara Uribe who has long battled the leftist rebel army in his country.
Uribe, a member of Opus Dei, also credited heavenly intervention for the successful rescue.
“The operation had the light of the Holy Spirit and the protection of Our Lord and the Virgin,” he told a group of the country’s bishop shortly after the rescue. “It was an intelligence operation comparable to the major epics of the history of humanity.”
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