Longform

SEEING THE LIGHT

Page 8 of 11

The way Fernando sees it, the rift between them was the result of his disappointment in himself. As a young man he'd been interested in the priesthood, in selfless things. Now, like his twin, Armando, he was caught up in success and politics. Never the candidate, he has always been the family's most aggressive political organizer. In addition to managing all of Armando's races and wife Leticia's successful campaign for the school board, he has worked for many other Democrats and was principal organizer in South Phoenix for ex-mayor Terry Goddard's campaigns. An executive with an insurance company, he and Leticia, an assistant high school principal, were making more money than they'd ever foreseen--so much money that they are now able to fill in some financial gaps for Estela and Reyes. But these circumstances did not, for Fernando in particular, equate with fulfillment. "It is shocking to see that you can become something that you abhor," he says of his mindset in the weeks right before Estela first saw Mary.

Afterward, he didn't immediately accept the weird phenomenon as some other family members were able to do. But in time something got through to him: the part of Mary's messages, as relayed through Estela, that had to do with how much the Beautiful Lady cared for him. "I knew that there was somebody who loved me; I knew that there was hope," he says.

He says that gradually he has been able to forgive himself for not turning out perfectly, since he feels that on a higher plane he is forgiven. And that transformation has also remade his marriage. On their 13th anniversary, he and Leticia renewed their vows in church, and they say their relationship is now growing "by leaps and bounds."

Their little house is just to the west of Estela's, and Armando's is to the east. Fernando and Armando have always lived within a mile of each other, have always seen the parallels in their lives.

When Armando Ruiz announced he was leaving politics, no one was more surprised than Pete Rios, the president of the Arizona State Senate. Only a week or two before this change of heart, Armando had told Rios of his decision to run for Congress in the new District 6, and the about-face didn't fill Rios with delight.

At the time it happened, the District 6 dimensions were still up in the air, as both Republicans and Democrats argued in court that the lines be drawn according to their own parties' best interests. Armando, as an experienced minority candidate for Congress, was a factor in the Democratic arguments for a district with a high percentage of minorities. "I said, 'If you pull out, it takes the wind out of our sails,'" Rios remembers.

And that, in fact, is what he believes happened. Instead of the 50 percent the Democrats asked for, the new district is 36 percent minority. "We lost a lot," says Rios.

And in the beginning, Armando may have himself felt that his decision was a loss, a personal one. He says that, when he first began to believe in the Blessed Mother and then to experience the conviction that God had fingered him for a higher calling, he thought the calling was Congress. "I thought that God wanted me to do the great and wonderful things that would be good for me," he says. Later he realized that "maybe God was asking me to walk away from that and do whatever work was going to help Him."

Armando would have you believe that it was typically self-centered thinking on his part--that his lifelong pattern has been to serve his own interests first, interests that, following graduation from Loyola Marymount University in California, became dominated by a voracious appetite for politics. He says that two previous marriages shriveled from his neglect in the years when he was career-obsessed and cavalier to his wives. It's a difficult thing to believe these days, watching him tenderly interact with his new wife and baby, listening to him alternately chide and encourage the street urchins who follow him around like ducklings. And even onlookers who don't buy into the Virgin phenomenon admit that for some reason Armando is a new man. "He was an intensely ambitious fellow, and his ambitions made him very closed, someone who played the cards very close to his chest," says ex-state senator Alfredo Gutierrez. "Now he has a very different view of the world; he is open and appears to be happy."

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Deborah Laake