Reporter's notebook: A prayer, a promise and a career change

The stories of the people Rosa Flores met in Mexico changed her life.

Story highlights

  • Rosa Flores was a CPA before becoming a journalist
  • She credits Our Lady of Guadalupe with guiding her career change

(CNN)I thought my career was set when I was 22.

I was about to graduate from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's in accounting, and I was recruited by the largest accounting firms in the world. The only thing outstanding for me to do was to pass the certified public accountant exam.
My confidence was sucker-punched when I learned that the CPA exam's national passing rate for first time takers was as low as 10%. I knew I was in trouble.
    So, I did what my mother and my grandmother taught me to do as a child. I prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe, or "Virgencita," as I call her in Spanish. I prayed for guidance, not realizing that putting my future in her hands would change my life's direction.
    I made a promise to Our Lady of Guadalupe that if I passed the CPA exam I'd deliver food and clothing to the indigent in Mexico. I studied day and night with a faith so strong it left no room for doubt about my success.
    Sitting for the CPA exam was a marathon. At the time, it was nearly a 16-hour paper and pencil test divided into four parts and taken over two days. I remember walking out of the 16th hour of testing with bruised confidence and thinking, "Virgencita, sorry, there's no way I passed that test."
    Several months later, I learned that I passed on the first try, and I landed a job with KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms in the world.
    "Virgencita, this was all you,'"I thought.

    Fulfilling a promise

    In haste, I packed my stuff and drove from Austin, Texas, to the southernmost tip of Texas to the place where I grew up, the Rio Grande Valley.
    Delivering on my promise to Our Lady of Guadalupe became a family project, with my mom, grandmother, nieces and nephews hopping into a truck to shop for food and clothing and then driving into Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, to hand deliver the goods to people.
    I met hungry children and senior citizens who changed my life. I met people from Central America who had walked through much of Mexico to get to the border with the United States. Most of them owned nothing else but the clothes on their backs and the little cardboard shacks they made on the levee of the Rio Grande for shelter.
    As I was delivering food to moms and toys to kids, one young boy said, "Can I please have the food and not toys? My mom is bedridden, and she can't come get the food."
    My heart stopped, and somehow a giant void was created in my chest, a heavy void that I couldn't explain.
    It sounds cliche, but that moment truly changed my life. I was no longer the 22 year old who thought she had everything figured out. I knew I had been touched by the power of prayer, but I didn't know where that epiphany would take me.
    "Virgencita what does this mean? What should I do?" I prayed.
    Rosa Flores discovered her calling after visiting with people in Mexico.

    Finding my calling

    For the next two years, I was on a mission to find my new path. I volunteered for every imaginable nonprofit organization and even earned KPMG's national award for community service.
    I thought, "Maybe I'm supposed to teach children." So, I applied for teaching jobs and never got a call back.
    Then I thought, "I need to run a charity." So, I applied for jobs in the nonprofit sector and never got a call back. I returned to Nuevo Progreso to deliver food and clothing and to look for the little boy who changed the direction of my life, but I never found him or his mother.
    Then on a typical day at the office, my prayer was answered. Something hit me. I knew exactly what I needed to do.
    I realized it was the stories of the people I met in Mexico that changed my life: the little boy with a sick mom, the elderly who didn't have blankets, the families whose homes had three cardboard walls.
    I quit my job as a CPA shortly thereafter and went back to UT Austin for a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. My friends and family thought I had gone crazy. My only hope was to tell stories. To tell stories like the ones that changed my life.
    Jobs in television followed quickly, starting in Oklahoma City then, Houston, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Less than a decade later, I joined CNN, where I currently have the privilege of covering stories nationally and internationally.
    Is it a coincidence? I like to call it faith. An answered prayer. Or what happens when you surrender your life to something much bigger than yourself.
    All I know is that every story I cover that sheds light on a forgotten community or on the poor reminds me of that little boy who preferred the food over the toys and the giant void I felt in my chest after meeting him.
    Has it been easy?
    Let me put it this way, I pray to Virgencita every day.
    If you don't believe, it might be difficult for you to understand. But, I know she places opportunities in my path that will continue to fill in that void, that yearning to tell the stories of the poor, the less fortunate, the voiceless.
    Covering Pope Francis' visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay is a perfect example. I profiled stories of women such as "Abuela Asuncion," who cooked for Francis out of her dirt floor home, and Mary Torres who raised cockfighting roosters to make ends meet.
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    Flying with Pope Francis on the papal plane during his visit to Cuba and the United States is yet another example. On board the plane, I shared my devotion to Virgencita with the Pope and gave him a prayer card of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Not only was I devout to Virgencita; all of my research on Pope Francis indicated he was, too.
    We were on the papal plane 10,000 feet up in the air somewhere between Rome and Cuba. During our 45 second exchange, Pope Francis scorned a priest, popped a joke and gave me his blessing. When I showed him the prayer card, he grabbed it from my hand and started kissing it.
    Now that I'm flying on the papal plane again with Pope Francis, the Pope of the poor, during his visit to Mexico I reflect on that promise I made to Our Lady of Guadalupe years ago.
    And how delivering on that promise in Mexico triggered a career change that has allowed me to tell the stories of the poor nationally and internationally.
    How I'll never forget that little boy who preferred the food over the toys. He was probably grateful because I fed him that one day; I'm grateful because he will feed my soul for the rest of my life.