Ivan Jose Baez was 24 years old. He lived the last two decades full of anguish and resentment at the abandonment of his father. A few weeks ago he decided to go with his mother to see “The Passion of the Christ,” not expecting that the movie would bring him back to the faith and help him to forgive his father, just in time before going home to God.
In a moving letter sent to CNA from his home in Orlando, Florida, Maria Zamora Echevarria of Puerto Rico told the story of her son, the shock of his unexpected death and the surprise of learning that he died in peace.
“For more than 20 years I saw my son Ivan Jose suffer and cry with anger. He was a man who had to be a son, a brother and a father to take of mi and his two little brothers. His heart was tormented by hatred for his father, who abused us and left us when he was just a small child,” writes Maria.
Ivan Jose was baptized Catholic and his mother raised him in the faith, but “he completely wandered away from t he Church and didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Seven weeks ago, Ivan Jose told me about the efforts of Mel Gibson to produce a move about the Passion of Christ. We decided to support Mel Gibson and Christianity and we went to the movie. It was the first time we went to the movies together in eight years,” Maria said.
“We were moved by ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and brought closer to Jesus and Mary, but above all it made us think about live and forgiving our enemies.”
“That night and on the following days all we talked about was The Passion and that Jesus asks us to love and to forgive, and about the love of Mary who saw her son suffer and die.”
“Ivan Jose told me ‘the greatest pain a mother can have is to bury her own son.’ Ivan Jose had changed, and we spoke about Jesus and that we needed to return to him if we wanted to find happiness,” Maria added.
Thirteen days later, without any sign and complete unexpected, Ivan Jose died of a heart attack while bicycle riding. Since he was 16 he had been saving money to open a business, but he always spent it on his family. This year he had decided to enlist in the Marines and his untimely death came while he was training to be able to meet the admission requirements.
Maria says that “as I sat and sobbed in his room, I found two poetic letters he had written after seeing the movie.”
“One letter was called ‘For Mom,’ and in it he tenderly thanked me for his live and for his life. The other letter was called ‘To the father I never had’,” Maria revealed.
This second letter was what gave Maria the peace of knowing that her son died without bitterness. In the letter Ivan wrote to his father about all he suffered because of his father’s abandonment and about the memories he had of his difficult childhood.
The letter ends, “Today I say to you, it doesn’t matter what you did—I forgive you. I forgive you for hitting my mother. I forgive you for lying to me. I forgive you for forgetting about me, but even more so for forgetting about my brothers who were so little when you left us. I forgive you for having been the father I needed, even though I received so much love out on the street. And I ask God to forgive you your sins. It still love you and I know you love me.”
Maria reveals that at that time, “a great peace enveloped my soul. My son died in peace, without hatred, with a clean heart. Mel Gibson and his movie helped him find Jesus and to be able to forgive even those who hurt him most.”
In the midst of her pain, Maria says she understands now “that we were the ones who were supported by the movie. Supported in our Christian faith which was grown faint over the years. God called my son home, it is difficult to understand for any mother and although I suffer for his loss my heart is in peace.”
“Perhaps for many ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is just a great movie, but for me it was the instrument that God used to reach my son, so that my Ivan Jose could forgive and love without hatred in his heart. It was the instrument God used so my son could go in peace,” concludes Maria.