Bogotá, Colombia, Apr 3, 2020 / 04:04 am (CNA).- Diana María Toro Vélez was kidnapped on a September day, as she drove home from Mass in the Colombian city where she lived. She spent 453 days in captivity. And she says that God’s grace kept her hope alive during the ordeal.
“I left Mass one Thursday and was driving home in my car and when I got home they assaulted me. They asked me a few questions and took me away. They sold me to the guerrillas,” Toro told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner.
Toro, the mother of three, told ACI Prensa that during her captivity, she was sometimes forced to march a lot, one time for up to 15 days in a row.
“I clung to God. I cried and prayed a lot. I really held fast to God. I taught the kidnappers how to read and write. We prayed. There was a certain coexistence, and good things came out of the bad,” she said.
Toro, 41, was kidnapped Sept. 27, 2018, in Amagá, about an hour’s drive from Medellin. Her captors were criminals, members of a gang called “The Sorcerers,” who handed her over to Marxist guerrillas from the the National Liberation Army (ELN) for 48M pesos, about $12,000. The ELN reportedly asked 3 billion pesos, about $745,000 for her return.
Toro was released from captivity on Christmas Eve, 2019.
The Catholic Church in Colombia had appealed for her release, and the release appeared to be a goodwill gesture toward achieving some kind of peace agreement between the ELN and the country’s government. Public officials credited the Church with arranging the release.
Speaking to ACI Prensa, the young mom said that she was “very devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe. When I was kidnapped I made a rosary and prayed it every day, praying a lot to the Virgin that she would allow me to be returned to my children. And God heard me, because I was released on Dec. 24, 2019.”
It was difficult, Toro said, to be “separated from my three children, one of them 3, another 4 and one 14 years old. Separated from my husband, my parents, my siblings, my family members, relatives and friends.”
“These were 453 days of anxiety, grief, sadness and despair. 453 days of living in the middle of the jungle, sleeping under a canopy, on branches, with snakes, scorpions, mosquitos and many other animals around,” she said.
Toro told ACI Prensa she subsisted on parrot, pasta, cooked banana, and rice. She had only two sets of clothes and infrequently bathed.
“These were really hard days without knowing anything about my family, just with the certainty that God was with me, filling me daily with his strength and fortitude and firmly believing that if I woke up okay, my family was okay too,” she said.
“And God brought me out of that really hard situation. I saw that his glory and his mercy are immense.”
Toro said the ordeal has filled her with gratitude.
“I want to tell those people who in these times feel alone or in despair because of the situation we’re going through in Colombia and the entire world, that God is with us, he never has left us alone, especially now.”
“Let’s pray the rosary, let’s pray as a family. The power of prayer is immense,” she added.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.