Husband of seer dies in Holy way as The Blessed Virgin comes to take him 'Home'
Written by Michael H. Brown
Sept 6, 2003 - As reported in [Spirit Daily.com] online newspaper - He was a big man, Reyes Ruiz, swarthy, of Mexican heritage, and with the world's most unforgettable hug. Love. That was what you felt from him. That was what you learned. This was a big street-smart man, a bruiser if he wanted to be a bruiser -- built like a lineman -- but he had chosen the gentle route of love as taught by the Blessed Mother.
There was Reyes, always holding a rosary in those large hands. I've never met anyone with a stronger Marian devotion. He had turned his whole house into a chapel. It's what he talked about incessantly -- his love for her, his love for God, the need to evangelize -- which he and his wife Estela and their children did, first here in the U.S., then in far-flung countries. This was a man who was so holy that I believe the Church should look into the possibility of beatification; he was that special. His death has been met by hundreds of letters -- from the poorest of the poor to the Arizona governor.
They lived in southern Phoenix in a crime-laden area among the poor and for those in need, the doors to their home were always open. Their yard was a shrine that Reyes had built -- with a startlingly realistic crucifix -- and a building where they taught needy children.
This was an incredible couple, Reyes and Estela. In September of 1988, Reyes set out for a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Estela, an educator, would have none of it. She thought Reyes' devotion was getting to the point of the ridiculous. She didn't know what to think. But during his trip, an image of Guadalupe in their home "spoke" to Estela (despite her resistance) and Estela began to have visions that continue to this day.
That's how I met them: we were appearing together at a church in Seattle and we struck up a fast friendship and I never stopped marveling at their spirituality. I had my doubts about a lot of seers, but not Estela; not the Ruizes -- because of their humility. I remember calling them to say hello one day in late January of 1996 and learning of an incredible story. They had been seeking grants to set up a charter school for poor children, and one grant application was to the National Football League, which has an inner-city program. They told me the application was finished on December 8 -- feast of the Immaculate Conception -- and as I recall the deadline was December 12 -- a Guadalupe feast day.
Anyway, the Super Bowl was in Phoenix that year, and days before the big game, the Ruizes suddenly got a call from the mayor's office saying that the mayor would be dropping by with the NFL commissioner. And so it happened! The day I called them! The two men came by the Ruizes' simple home in that poor area of Phoenix and gave them a grant of $1 million for computers and other school equipment!
That's the result of faith, and no one had more of that than Reyes. Years ago, when he learned that he had cancer of the prostate -- and that it had spread -- he did anything but panic. Instead, he rejoiced, calling it his "ticket home." Apparently, his mission was ending. He offered up all the sufferings. And those sufferings were intense. I remember being kept abreast of the pain he endured in everyday functions, and then the agonies as the cancer progressed to his bones, lungs, and ultimately his brain.
The pain was physical but his attitude, his joy, his love of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, never wavered a bit. He was always upbeat. When you asked how he was doing, he always said, "Like a champion." He was cheerful and joyous in the Lord and if anything, his faith had deepened.
I last spoke to him about a month and a half ago, and though it was getting hard to hear him over the phone, and though he was under hospice care, he was still basically the same old upbeat Reyes -- speaking about God, about Mary, and concerned about others instead of himself. He died on July 27.
The other night, when I called to check up on Estela, I was thrilled to find that she was also her old cheerful self, and with joy she described the incredible way her dear husband died. It was a holy death. In fact, it was incredible. The entire month leading up to it, Mass was said in their home. For a week straight, it was celebrated by a Peruvian bishop. Before he died, Reyes was visited not only by a slew of priests, but also the Phoenix bishop, an old friend from the days when Reyes worked for the diocese. Reyes wept every time he saw news on the scandals. He wept for Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, whom he dearly loved. He had a tremendous affection for anyone who was a priest -- the utmost respect.
The bishop hugged Reyes, whose eyes brimmed with tears. He made sure to give the bishop a bear hug back, with what strength was left.
Everyone always remembered Reyes' bear hug.
When he died, there were about fifty people, including a number of priests, at his bedside. Estela, who doesn't see the Blessed Mother every day, or even every week, only periodically, said that Mary appeared in the room at about 7 p.m. on Saturday July 26 and stayed there for the next six hours. Every time she looked, there was the Blessed Mother, who told Estela that Reyes would die in God's time (they had been expecting him to die that Saturday, the Blessed Mother's day) and that she had come to take her son home. Is this not what is said at the end of each prayer? Is it not what we ask when we beseech her to be with us "now and at the hour of death"? Is it not what was in those countless thousands of Hail Marys he'd said?
Meanwhile, Reyes was dying. He began taking his final deep breaths, and communicated a message to one of his sons, then to Estela -- that she was not to worry, that he would always be there in spirit to help her. Then he closed his eyes and left. A holy death. Such a feeling! When Estela turned to look for the Blessed Mother, she too was gone.
"Before, he looked like death, his cheeks were sunken, and his eyes," says Estela. "He had been skin and bones. He had not eaten in a month. A face of total suffering. He wanted to be anointed with oil when he died, and we did, his whole body. When his face was anointed, we were all sitting there quietly praying. My four sons were there, and were called away. I was there looking at him and he was almost shining like a diamond. I wiped some of the excess oil off with Kleenex, and my daughter dabbed his other side -- we thought there was too much oil -- and there were cavities in his body where the oil had collected. I started cleaning his face, and when I finished, I said, 'he looks different.' By that time my daughter had sat down, and what happened was that his mouth had been open in death and when I finished dabbing the oil off, his skin was like twenty-year-old skin and like his whole face had changed. My daughter said, 'Oh my gosh!' His face had filled, his mouth had closed, he was smiling, his eyes had filled out, and his face was radiant -- radiant. He just looked twenty years old. I told my son, 'Hurry, come and see your dad!' Everyone was shocked. The morticians said they had never seen a mouth close on its own once it opens in death. He had turned into a young man. It was truly miraculous. He had a dimple back in his face that had disappeared during the devastation of cancer."
Days later, more than 1,000 jammed St. Catherine's Church in Phoenix for a Rosary as Reyes body was set in front of the tabernacle (he had a great devotion to the Eucharist), and then he was processed in a white carriage with white horses as a tribute to his name, Reyes, or "king" -- a king of a man who knew Who the real King was.
Hundreds strode in the procession, including a Mariachi band. They ended up back at the shrine Reyes had built -- where he had toiled even after he was stricken with cancer -- and that's where he got his final send off.
Hats off to you Reyes! You're home! Watch over us!