DNA or No, Her Faith Is Unwavering

By Helen Ubiñas
Hartford Courant
July 30, 2006

Even after all these weeks, you can still feel the tension between them. Emily Rivera shakes her head in disbelief as her mother speaks. Her mother talks haltingly, carefully, and still it's just seconds after we've all sat down in their living room before they find themselves at odds.

"If he did it..." Rivera's mother starts.

"If?" Rivera exclaims, incredulous. "Mami there's DNA."

"DNA," Rivera repeats, "How do you explain that?"

Her mother sits, quietly. She can't.

It's been like this between them ever since Hartford minister Modesto Reyes got arrested five weeks ago, accused of repeatedly raping and impregnating an 11-year-old parishioner.

"You have an 11-year-old granddaughter," Rivera tells her mother. "What if it was her? Would you still be saying `if?'"

"No, of course not," her mother says. "If it was her..."

"But Mami," Rivera interrupts. "Don't you see? This little girl is somebody else's granddaughter, somebody else's daughter. There's no difference."

The day Reyes got arrested, Rivera's mother came home from church as though nothing had happened. When the family saw the story on the news, she put her head down; church elders told her not to talk about it. And who knows what the truth is, anyway? That girl dressed so provocatively...

Ever since there's been yelling and crying, a house divided between a mother unwilling to stop believing and a daughter confused, outraged, over such misguided faith. What about the girl? Rivera asks. With all these people acting as if she's the enemy, the temptress, will she remember that she is the true victim here? Will she be strong enough to stand against him? Is it even possible for a girl, now 12, to be that strong?

The questions linger between us, unanswered.

Rivera refuses to drive her mother to church, refuses to let the church van come for her. She told the parishioners to stop calling the house. And until the other day, she thought she might have gotten through to her. But there's still a hold there.

I went to the church trying to understand that hold, I told her. To understand why half the congregation would flock to the courthouse as if the only thing that had changed since Reyes' arrest was the location of his church. I didn't find an answer; at least not one that made any sense.

Rivera gives me hers: "Brainwashing."

It's the only way to explain the transformation in her mother, a woman who taught her never to put her faith in a man of the cloth, because he is only a man after all. The same woman who now inexplicably clings to a faith in a man who, weeks before his arrest, assured parishioners that if he were ever jailed, it would be just God's way of telling him to minister to prisoners.

I ask the mother: What is it about Reyes that engenders such devotion?

Well, she says slowly, she liked him. She didn't like the way he'd complain about her not giving the full $50 monthly donation. Or the way he chastised the family for Halloween decorations: Devil worshippers, he'd hiss. He warned that she was spending too much time with her family. "You can't put family in front of church," Reyes said.

But she felt comfortable there.

Something about that stops Rivera. "Would you go back if you could?"

Her mother hesitates, as if trying to decide if she should answer truthfully. Finally, quietly, she says, "Yes."

Helen Ubiñas' column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at


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