En español | The fragrance of roses was so strong that it slid through the backyard fence and into the neighborhood. But there weren’t any roses in Estela Ruiz’s yard or even in a vase in her modest Phoenix home. Even so, she says she and the hundreds gathered around her knew the sweet smell meant the Virgin Mary was nearby and ready to share more messages with Ruiz and the world.
December 3 marks the 20th anniversary of what Ruiz says was the Virgin’s first appearance to her, a grandmother and educator who was facing a family crisis when what she believes to be a miracle occurred.
Ruiz is among the 86 percent of U.S. Hispanics ages 45-plus who say they believe in miracles, and among the 56 percent who say they have witnessed one, according to an exclusive AARP study on miracles, angels, and divine healings. That compares to 80 percent and 35 percent, respectively, of their white non-Hispanic counterparts who say the same.
The numbers don’t surprise Ruiz. “The longer you live the more you get to see. I think God [performs miracles] so we can grow and get closer to Him. He shows us many beautiful things and what He’s about, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
But the Rev. Tony Sotelo, 76, a retired Catholic priest in Phoenix, wonders why the Hispanic numbers aren’t even higher. “Miracles don’t just take place on the outside, but on the inside too,” he says. “Sometimes it’s something just the priest sees; it’s something you can’t explain any other way.”
He speaks easily and still with wonder about the miracles he’s witnessed, from driving directly to a wheelchair-bound dying woman’s home—having only been given the name of the town where she lived—to seeing a young parishioner walk again after a prognosis of lifelong paralysis. “She ran up to me and people started crying,” he says of the girl, for whom parishioners had prayed every Sunday. “I had told them that if we were going to pray, we had to pray very seriously.”
The AARP poll also found that more than six out of 10 Hispanic respondents believe some people are more likely than others to be recipients of a miracle or divine healing. About four out of 10 white non-Hispanics feel the same way.
Sotelo says, however, that “no one is really worthy; it’s up to God.” He adds: “A person we think is unworthy, God might think is worthy. God sees the heart; man sees the exterior. That’s from the Book of Kings.”
What Martiliano Gonell saw was a clear, blue light that appeared above him and, for five years, lighted his way every time he walked into the darkness alone. It first appeared, he says, when he was 12 and living in a rural area of his native Dominican Republic. “I could see the cows and all the animals,” recalls Gonell, now 45 and living in Yonkers, New York. The only plausible explanation, he says, is that it was a miracle.
Mexico-born Aurora Porras says she’s witnessed miracles, too, including the overnight disappearance of a fast-growing tumor on her then-infant cousin. Because the baby was so young, doctors couldn’t operate, and predicted the red-colored growth would cover an eye and steal her sight. Porras, who’s 45 and now lives in Dalton, Georgia, credits God and the Virgin of Guadalupe for answering the family’s fervent prayers. “Her name is Lisette Guadalupe, because we’re so grateful to the Virgin,” she says, referring to her now-24-year-old cousin, who bears no sign of the tumor.