“Angels take care of us”
The AARP study found that many Latinos—including Porras—believe angels exist and play an important role in their lives. Among Hispanic respondents, 84 percent believe in angels and, of those, half believe deceased relatives are angels or guardian angels in their lives. Among white non-Hispanics, the numbers are 75 percent and 40 percent, respectively. “I have a little angel who is part mine,” Porras says of a baby she miscarried. “I feel angels take care of us.”
“I think angels have become part of the popular culture, regardless of religion,” says Rob Reynolds, associate professor of Sociology at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. But he points out that when it comes to believing in angels and miracles, age seems to play a role.
The AARP study found major differences between boomers (ages 55-64) and other age groups. While nearly nine in 10 boomer respondents believe in angels or guardian angels, only five in 10 of those ages 45-54 do so.
And when it comes to miracles, the younger and boomer groups both outpace the age 65+ cohort—88 percent, 90 percent, and 80 percent, respectively, believing in them. Reynolds doesn’t know if the numbers signal a trend or why the differences exist. “I wonder if (the two younger groups) have been more influenced by the trends of larger society, by the popular culture, than the older group.”
Roads Much Traveled
Reynolds, who has done extensive research on pilgrimages, expected more Hispanics to have visited a site where miracles or divine events had been reported. Even so, the difference between Latinos and white non-Hispanics was stark: 23 percent to 6 percent.
“I think the [Hispanic] number would be higher if you could break it down by immigrants and those born in the United States,” the sociologist says. “In Mexico, for example, it’s such a huge thing to go see the Virgin of Guadalupe, there are many local pilgrimages, and for parishes to go as a group is common.” He adds that it’s also an important part of the culture in a lot of other Latin American countries.
While seven in 10 Latinos believe such sites are holy, only about four in 10 white non-Hispanics think so; but 48 percent and 38 percent, respectively, say they would travel to a holy site if given the opportunity.
Reynolds says the lower numbers among white non-Hispanics could represent non-Catholic respondents who consider such trips history tours or cultural pilgrimages instead of religious ones. “There’s no one reason for going,” he says. “You might be interested in a physical, not spiritual, healing, want to improve a relationship, or to find an answer to a question in your life. Can we connect more to God by being in Israel? A lot of people would say yes, even though doctrine doesn’t support that.”
And a lot of people would say that a holy place could be anywhere, such as Estela Ruiz’s backyard. Or even her living room, where her miracle began.
“We were a good Catholic family, yet we were more in this world than in God’s realm,” she says of the time her first priority was earning master’s and doctorate degrees in education. “It was, ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’ for me.”
But her youngest son, then 27, used drugs, and had been addicted since he was 11. Throwing him out, welcoming him back, sending him to rehab; nothing worked, she says. After having a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared, Ruiz says she began to pray, not only for her children, but also for herself.
Two months after the dream, while the family prayed near the Virgin’s picture in the living room, she saw the apparition. “They (the Virgin and God) came to knock me over with a wonderful two-by-four, which was our wonderful Blessed Mother,” Ruiz says. “I wanted to rub my eyes, but I couldn’t even move. I was like paralyzed, and she talked to me. She said, ‘Don’t you know that I’m going to take care of your children?’”