‘Deeply religious man’ made a promise to God

Such a moving story.

Such a big ghost.

That was my immediate reaction upon reading an Associated Press feature with this headline:

Family promises a life for son in vegetative state

The top of the story is absolutely gripping:

MURRIETA, Calif. (AP) — Paul Cortez can remember the night 31 years ago as clearly as if it was last week. He had walked into the pediatric intensive care unit of Riverside County Regional Medical Center to find his 7-year-old son, Mikey, barely clinging to life.

Bandages were covering his little body, seemingly from head to toe. Wires and tubes attached to machines were keeping him alive. Doctors told Cortez that Mikey might not make it. A drunken driver had smashed into the car carrying the boy and relatives, sending four of them, including his mother, brother and sister, to other hospitals. Four other relatives, including Mikey’s oldest brother, were dead.

Not knowing what to do, Paul Cortez got down on his knees and, with Mikey’s hand in his, made a promise to God: If his son somehow survived, whatever the condition, he and his family would always be there for him.

It felt strange at first because, although he is a deeply religious man, Cortez had never before asked for any favors from heaven.

“But he was our son,” he recalled.

Mikey would never walk or talk again, but that didn’t matter to his family. For the next 31 years, they would raise him at home, including him in every activity they could. From holidays to family vacations to high school football games, they were by his side until his death last month.

So what we have here is an incredible human drama involving a “deeply religious man” who made a promise to God. Religion angle, anyone?

Unfortunately, the story fails to explore at all the role of faith in this family’s life — outside of those vague mentions about religion and God.

What does “deeply religious” mean in this case? Does the family belong to a church? Do they have a church family? If so, did that church family help support the Cortezes and care for Mikey? These all seem like relevant questions.

I Googled a few key terms from the story and added “faith” to see if any other media had covered that angle. Interestingly enough, I came across a different version of the AP story that did, in fact, hint that the Cortezes are Christians, including this mention:

In the fall of 1993 California was gripped by one of the worst wildfire seasons in its history. Twenty-eight blazes incinerated more than 1,200 structures across the state during a two-week period beginning in late October.

It was about 3 a.m. one October morning when sparks from wind-whipped power lines set off a blaze that came racing down a hill toward the Cortez home. With only minutes to get out, Cortez grabbed Mikey and tossed him into the family RV while his other son grabbed a handful of possessions. Then the family drove straight through a wall of flames to safety.

“When the fire came and they lost everything, some of us here said, ‘OK, Lord, what are you doing?’” recalled Hollie Woods, who teaches at Linfield Christian School in Murrieta, where Mikey’s brother and sister, Angelica, were once students. “But they just kept going and never lost their faith.”

Such a moving story.

Such a big ghost.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Pamela B. Zohar

    I guess I think of ‘Christian’ as being a sufficient modifier. I don’t need to know exactly which denomination the Cortez family belongs to. Maybe the reporter didn’t think so either. Is it important to the story? Maybe not.

    • Kevin Spencer

      The modifier was important for accuracy. Not all followers of God are Christians by theological or historical definitions (Muslims, Mormons, Jahovahs Witnesses, et al.).

      • Pamela B. Zohar

        He sent his kids to a school with ‘Christian’ in the name – I suppose it is conceivable that a Muslim might do so, but unlikely – and that surely WOULD have triggered an explanation.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      The story never identifies him as a Christian. It just says “deeply religious man.” The reference to the Christian school his children attended appears in one version of the story but not the one that went out nationally.


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