The world news has been filled with stories of terror, natural disasters, increasing conflict in parts of our world. We wonder where is our world headed? Are we ever going to see the peace that so many desire?
Just yesterday, an airplane was brought down by a rocket in the Ukraine. Everyone is scrambling to determine who caused this tragedy. There has been increased conflict in the middle East between Israelis and Palestinians - in a land where the Prince of Peace was born, lived, died and came back to life.
We wonder what we can do about all of this. It has been said that evil will thrive when good people do nothing. It is even more tragic when by our own actions of selfishness and sinfulness we contribute to the unrest in our world. In his classic novel Les Miserables, the author Victor Hugo places these words on the lips of a good bishop (a primary character in the early chapters): Let us never fear robbers, nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.
Again, we wonder what we can do to thwart evil in our world. So many of our news stories are filled with tragedy and sorrow. Are there any good stories in the world? I would recommend that you go to your computer (or I-pad or smart phone) and ask for "positive stories." Let me share one with you - it is somewhat lengthy but points out that there is still much good in the world if we only look for it.
Teacher Linda Hooper had been warned about a "holy terror" of a student rising up through Brown Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas. So by the time Cruz Riojas was set to enter the sixth grade, she issued a waring to the school's princiapl: "I will quit if I have him in my class."
But then the story, as first reported in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, began to change. Sure enought it was Hooper's classroom that the 12-year old walked into in August 1980. He was far behind in academics - two years behind in reading and classified as special ed - and she quickly experienced his troubling behavior.
"He had ourbursts, threw chairs." Linda told TODAY. "If a child touched him, they'd be thrown on the floor in two seconds."
Cruz lived with his mother, stepfather and five half-siblings, and suffered years of physical abuse at the hands of his stepfather. He was bused to Linda's school wearing the same clothes every day, and he brought his troubling homelife with him.
"I made a joke about everything, Cruz told TODAY. "I wouldn't let my stepfather see me cry, and I carried that with me to school."
Cruz's sixth-grade year included frequent clashes with his physical-education teacher, who sent him to Linda. "Every day (that teacher would) send in him and say, 'I'm not dealing with this kid, he's yours,' " she recalls. "I didn't know what to do, but he was in there, so I started letting him help me. I had him reshelving books, grading papers, to make the period go by. And he began to like to do stuff."
And the student recognized that his teacher cared about him. "I saw that she just wouldn't give up, " Cruz said. "She said, 'This persona that you project isn't who you really are.'"
Linda started having Cruz come to the home she shared with her husband Gale, a firefighter, and their four daughters. She'd give him money for small household chores, and arranged for his first job, a paper route.
Cruz developed a particularly remarkable relationship with his teacher's husband. "He never had a man in his life that was worth anything and he respected Gale," Linda said.
He began spending more and more time at the Hooper home, and would frequently run the 7.5 miles between his home and theirs when he had a fight with his stepfather. But one day in February 1982, Linda received a call from Cruz's mother that would change all of their lives.
"His stepfather had beaten him, so she called me and asked, can I keep him until things blow over?" Linda recalls. "She put everything he owned in a cardboard box, and they huddled behind an 18-wheeler until I came to meet them."
Cruz thought he'd only be staying with his teacher's family for an hour, but that hour turned into days, months, and then years.
Linda recalls the first time Cruz stopped calling her "Mrs. Hooper." "We were in a grocery store, and he wanted everyone to know that I was his mother, because people would look at us funny. He said, "MOTHER, can I have this?" He was getting everyone's attention to say. "Everybody look, this is my mom."
Thanks to the Hoopers and another dedicated teacher, Cruz moved out of the special-education program and graduated with his peers. He went on to study at Texas Tech University and later met Anel Montemayor, his future wife. And just before his 30th birthday, Cruz called Linda to ask if she and Gale would officially adopt him. The answer was obvious.
"He said he said he wanted to honor us, and it was a big honor," Linda said. "I've always known he loved me, but this reaaly showed he loved us."
Cruz and Anel Riojas became Cruz Riojas Hooper and Anel Montemayor-Hooper. They now live in San Antonio with their two children, Hannah, 13, and Greyson, 9.
Cruz is careful to teach his children about their Mexican roots while also honoring the traditions and cultures from the Hooper side. "My parents taught me never to give up. Just persevere, " he said. "My father would always sayd, 'The light at the end of the tunnel isn't always a train. It's a light, and move toward it."
It is up to us, then, to try to be a force for good in the world by what we do and how we treat others. In the middle ages, the Crusades were undertaken - a military approach to what some saw as evil. We do not neet a military approach in our day (God know there is enough tragedy occuring from military responses). But let us have a crusade for prayer. The power of prayer has been often documented and each of us probably can recount times when prayer made a powerful difference in our lives.
Let us pray then for peace in the world. Let us pray that leaders of nations will look to preserving the rights of all, particularly our women and children. Let us pray that attempts to solve tensions may be met with acceptance. In our Catholic Christian tradition, we revere saints and angels who can intercede for us. Let me recommend the following prayer to you:
Saint Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and you, O Prince of the Heavenly Host - by the divine power of God - cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Let us never cease to pray for our world - it's the only one we have.