in the Forefront
It is unquestionable that if Garabandal began as a spectacular Marian Epiphany, it soon revealed itself also as an attempt to promote Eucharistic devotion. And in this regard, it can be recognized that it was coming just at the right time, since surrounding the Mysterium Fidei, the Eucharist, there was then beginning to emerge the enormous crisis of doctrine and devotion that is so well known to everyone today.
This Eucharistic dimension of Garabandal had a special importance during the second year, 1962, as the reader may have noticed.
Among the many episodes that took place almost monotonously in the mystery of Garabandal during the month of August, there was a Mystical Communion on Monday, August 6th. This was not the only day for these Communions. From Fr. Valentín's notes, we know about other days in August on which they took place. Furthermore, the priest's notes on August 2nd specifically state: «Conchita says that from the 18th of July, whenever there isn't a Mass; and Loli too». This sentence cannot be interpreted in any other way than that Conchita and Loli ordinarily were receiving Communion from the hands of the Angel whenever they were not receiving it from the hands of a priest. If such Communions passed unnoticed many times in the village, it was due to the time and place in which
Before returning to August 6th, let us see what happened on the previous day, Sunday, that Fr. Valentín described in his notes:
«Today Conchita came to Mass after the Sanctus and came up then to receive Communion. Since she had missed the Mass and it was a day of obligation, I didn't give her Communion. I did the same with a man from Cataluña and two seminarians; but I finally gave Communion to the seminarians, since they told me that they were going to hear Mass in the evening.»
What could be thought of the pastor's attitude? He is correct, provided that Conchita was culpable of being late — something which Fr. Valentín had no way of knowing — or if it was something habitual with her. And was this the case? I do not know; but I have an article written by Mr. González- Gay of Santander:(14)
«On the previous night the girls had been in ecstasy for a long time, causing them to retire very late for sleep. (Father Valentín himself corroborates this, noting: «At four in the morning Conchita and Loli had an apparition; it lasted 45 minutes.») The pastor rang the bell at eight o'clock. Conchita and her mother, who didn't hear the bell, came into the church when the Mass was already past the Offertory. At the proper time, Conchita went with the other people to receive
communion, kneeling down at the Communion rail. But Father Valentín skipped over her twice while distributing the Sacred Host. He didn't want to give her Communion since he had seen that she had come late for Mass. Two big tears rolled out from the girl's eyes, and she returned to her place. The holy Mass ended, and going outside, she ran from the church in the direction of the Pines . . .»
This was the incident of Sunday, August 5th; but the episode that really interests us pertains to the following day, Monday, Father Valentín starts his brief annotation like this:
«August 6th. Today I said Mass at nine in the morning. Loli and Jacinta received Communion. Conchita was not at Mass, but at 11:30 she went to the Pines(15) where there were three brothers of St. John of God.»(16)
Since a report was made by these three brothers let us examine it:
«Arriving from various areas, we had joined some other Brothers in our house at Celorio (Asturias),( 17) to make the Spiritual Exercises which were to begin in the afternoon or evening on Monday, the 6th of August. During supper on Sunday, August 5th, four of us brothers decided to go up to San Sebastián de Garabandal. When the hour to leave arrived on August 6th, Brother Juan Bosco called the other three. One of them came to the door and said, I'm not going. I'm backing out.(18)
The three of us left for Llanes at once . . . We arrived at Cossío about 9:00 in the morning. From there six kilometers of very bad road separated us from San Sebastián de Garabandal. We began inquiring about a way to go up as quickly as possible. And a storekeeper advised us that Fidelín, a young taxi driver, would be arriving sooner or later with a group of people who were coming down from San Sebastián de Garabandal. Soon we saw them. There was a psychiatrist from
Barcelona with his family, who spoke favorably about the phenomena.
We came into San Sebastián de Garabandal about 10:15. The Taxi stopped near the house of Mari Cruz, one of the visionaries. She was on her balcony with her older sister. We indicated that we wanted to speak with her. And after a while, at
the suggestion of her sister, she came down toward us. She greeted us timidly, and immediately we began our questions . . .
At the end of about ten minutes, Jacinta came out on the street. She greeted us with an angelical smile. And we began to besiege her with questions too. We took several photographs of the girls, and then some men from Andalucía arrived and joined the conversation. Without our noticing it, the girls withdrew.
The men from Andalucía insistently urged us to stay for the night, since that was the time for the apparitions. We didn't know what to do. And seeing the perplexity we had because of our lack of permission and the requirements of our schedule (that same night we had to begin our retreat), the taxi driver voluntarily offered to take us to Celorio in his taxi. Everything having been arranged like this, we set out to go up the hill where the apparitions took place.
But prior to this a priest appeared, a native of Beasaían (Guipúzcoa), who was spending several days in San Sebastián de Garabandal. This priest, according to what people from Andalucía informed us, had been the object of a grace from the Most Holy Virgin through the mediation of Conchita (one of the visionaries). We
greeted him and suggested that he tell us what had happened to him on the previous night. His answer was: Come and see. He was very excited and he left.(19)
Finally, we went up to the Pines. It is a pleasant place. Once there, we quietly began to eat some sandwiches.
Just after eating, a girl about 14 years of age appeared, accompanied by three other little girls of approximately 2, 5, and 6 years of age. We asked her if she was Conchita, and with total simplicity and frankness she answered: Yes. Surprised
and happy, we began to accost her with one question after another.
It occurred to us to offer her one of our sandwiches, and what was our surprise on hearing her answer:
— No, since I have to receive Communion here.
We were perplexed and intrigued. We asked her how that was going to be. She answered with the same naturalness as at the beginning:
— Because the Angel is going to give me Communion, since I couldn't receive it in the parish church.(20)
Between doubt and joy — since perhaps we were going to be witnesses of something supernatural — we asked her if she was sure that the Angel was going to come, since we were there. And she answered with an awesome sureness:
After that, we continued to harass her with questions related, as would be expected, to her visions and the things that had happened to her. And she answered everything with such simplicity that we were amazed, since she spoke of events that were truly extraordinary. The conversation lasted about an hour and a half.
She told us many things, among them that she had written to several people, by order of the Most Holy Virgin, without ever having seen or known them. She told us that she had spoken with a dead Jesuit priest in four languages: German,
French, English and Greek. (This priest died on the day after he had a vision of the Most Holy Virgin). She told us how the Virgin had kissed them, how she indicated at times if a word had a “b" or a “v".(21)
We shot some photographs of her and the three girls that she had brought along. Afterwards came a few seconds of silence, and we saw that she was walking toward the place where the Angel was accustomed to appear. We noticed her going away, and one of us exclaimed, Look! She's leaving. She heard this. She looked at us with a pleasant smile. And taking a few more steps, she fell on her knees, turning her head backwards, forming an angle — it seemed to us — of about 60 degrees. And joining her hands in the position for receiving Communion, she went into ecstasy.
Facing this scene, two of us automatically fell on our knees, one at the side of Conchita, and the other about three steps in front of her. The third, who was carrying a camera, used it to take snapshots. The one at her side got up to
observe her expression, her eyes, mouth, gestures, etc. We saw that once on her knees and in the position described, she made the sign of the cross in a very slow and devout way, as she whispered some words and struck her chest three times. This finished, she opened her mouth and with devotion held out her tongue in
the customary way of receiving Communion. And later, as she slowly closed her mouth, those at her side heard a noise as if something was passing down her throat.
She remained a few seconds in the same position as at the beginning and whispered something that we didn't understand. During this, she turned around on her knees, and still keeping the same position, turned toward Brother Luis. Somewhat frightened, he drew back from her, but seeing that the girl followed him on her knees, he stopped.
Then the girl took his scapular in her hands, stood on her feet, and lifting it up in a most solemn way, made as though to present it to someone. Lowering the scapular, she fell on her knees again, and still in the same position, was motionless for a few seconds. A little later she went toward Brother Miguel, also on her knees, and repeated the same performance as before. Going on, she went to Brother Juan Bosco. But before the girl took Brother Juan Bosco's scapular, Brother Miguel tied them both together — his and Brother Juan's. However, the girl, still looking upwards, separated them, and taking Brother Juan Bosco's scapular, did the same as with the previous ones.
The whole performance finished, the girl knelt down again at the place where she had begun the ecstasy. She stayed there for a few seconds, whispering words that we weren't able to hear. She made the sign of the cross, and got up on her feet very naturally. And in the normal state, she smiled at us, put back a ribbon that had fallen from her hair as a consequence of the ecstatic position and . . .
We began immediately to question her:
— You have received Communion?
— Why did you take our scapulars and lift them up?
— The Angel asked me to do it so that he could kiss them.
— Did you speak with the Angel?
— What did he tell you? Did he tell you anything about us?
— The Angel knows that you are here. And he told me that he had brought me here because of you. And he also told me that the Lord and the Virgin were pleased with you.
— Did he tell you something for any of us?
— Yes. He gave me a message for each of you.
— Then tell it to us.
— No, I have to tell it first to the Virgin, because the Angel told me to tell it to the Virgin before you.
— Then you will tell us?
— Yes, yes.
— And the first of the scapulars that you held up — do you know whom it belonged to?
— The first belonged to Brother Luis.
-- And the second?
-- To Brother Miguel.
— And the third?
— To Brother Juan.
She said this thinking a little beforehand, as if trying to remember. We were aware that we had told her our names rapidly before the ecstasy. On asking her which Angel usually gave her Communion, and on hearing that it was St. Michael, we took advantage of this to point out Brother Miguel's name, and right afterwards our other two names, so that she could pray for us.
— What did the Angel look like?
— He had a blue cloak, pink wings and slightly long hair with the ends curled up. While saying this, she made a gesture with her hair, to give us a more graphic description.
During the conversation, both before and after the ecstasy, she continually called us ‘Fathers'. When the ecstasy was over, after one of the times that she called us ‘Fathers' again, we indicated that we were Brothers. On hearing this, she exclaimed, Oh! That's the reason the Angel told me “the Brothers." And at the time I told him that you weren't my brothers, and the Angel smiled. Now it's all clear.
We started going back toward the village. The topic of the messages came up again:
— Is the message for us grave?
— And what is “grave"?
— Well, is it good or bad?
— No, no. It's good.
— But are you really going to tell us?
— Yes, yes. Really.
We noticed that we hadn't given her our address. On passing down the slope situated between the Pines and the village, the girl told us, They say that I come down backwards through here, through these stones.
Coming to the village, we took a light lunch and returned to our residence, giving thanks to the Lord for that which filled our souls with such joy.»(22)
Conchita got back to her home with the three brothers of St. John of God (whom everyone thought were priests) at the time when her mother was speaking in the sharp way that we saw with the pastor from Barro. As soon as Conchita came up to her mother, she began to get a scolding for being late. Conchita could only answer, submissively, with her head down.
— It was due to the Angel giving me Communion.
— The Angel! The Angel! Good thing it was that way. But get going, since it's time that your brothers have lunch.
Neither ecstasies nor apparitions freed them, or any of the other inhabitants of Garabandal, from the hard work of gaining their daily bread. But that other bread should also be remembered, no less necessary, the bread which one does not gain by the sweat of one's brow.
In the synagogue at Capernaum, on the day after the most spectacular of His miracles — the multiplication of the loaves of bread — Jesus was facing the multitudes of Israel, who no sooner hoped than they were disappointed:
Amen I say to you, you seek Me, not because you have seen signs, but because you have eaten of the loaves and have been filled. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for that which endures until life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you. (John 6:26-27)
In Garabandal, with the display of Communions from the Angel's hands, God came to inculcate the same doctrine again. And a state of affairs would develop that He would have to condemn three years later with a denunciation truly prophetical:
It is being given less and less importance.
The Angel at Garabandal came to tell each son of the Church what many centuries previously the Angel of Israel had said to the fleeing prophet Elias:
for you have a great way to go.
(III Kings 19: 7)
14. In a short series of articles entitled What hasn’t been written about Garabandal that appeared in the weekly Qué Pasa (Madrid) during 1968.
15. Fr. Valentín’s note seems inaccurate. But it should not be judged too quickly. I found this in a letter from Maximina to the Pifarré family, dated August 7:
«The pastor said that on Monday the Mass would be at 11:00. Afterwards it was changed and he came to say it at 9:00. We didn’t know it, and since the bells aren’t heard well here, we missed the Mass; and the pastor doesn’t like to give
Communion if it is not during the Mass.»
16. Although St. John of God was born in Portugal, it was in Granada that he become known for his heroic charity toward the sick especially the mentally ill. Here began the Order of Hospitalers, so blessed and specialized in the care of the mentally ill, crippled, and retarded children.
The brothers mentioned in this episode were, according to their religious names: Brother Luis Gonzaga, Brother Juan Bosco, and Brother Miguel of the Saints.
17. Celorio is a beautiful little coastal village in the district of Llanes. It had a famous seashore monastery from which there still remains a church (now the parochial church) and also some buildings which have been used for years as a retreat house. Not far from the retreat house is the property belonging to the Brothers of St. John of God.
Celorio is the neighboring parish to Barro, the parish of Fr. José Ramón García de la Riva.
18. A small piece of information which everyone can interpret as he wishes: a few years later, the same one who backed out of his promise to go to Garabandal, also backed out of his religious promises, leaving the order.
19. This is what happened to that priest, according to a letter from Maximina to the Pifarré family of the 7th:
«This Sunday (August 5th) there were also some priests here from San Sebastián. And one, by his appearance, was rather sick. And it seemed that he was going to go to Germany since it is said that there is a great shortage of priests there (for the Spanish immigrants). And Conchita said in ecstasy: The Virgin told me that you will be cured. This priest was greatly moved. After the ecstasy she repeated this again, that the place didn’t matter, that wherever he was, there would be
many souls to save.»
20. I think that Conchita’s words are a good answer to the surprise that Father Valentín mentions in his notes on Monday, August 6th, 1962:
«I don’t understand this: the girl has always said that the Angel only gives Communion when there isn’t a priest in the village.» (He had been there and celebrated Mass at 9 in the morning, a Mass at which Conchita did not assist.)
It seems obvious that if the Angel came to give Communion as a substitute for the priest, he could do it not only when there was no priest in the village; but also when there was one of the visionaries through no fault of their own could not come to the church to utilize the priest’s services. We have information from the pastor from Barro, who was present, about what happened on this day:
«The pastor, Fr. Valentín, had authorized the abbot Retenaga and also another priest and myself to celebrate Mass in the village church on condition that the doors would be closed. The abbot Retenaga celebrated the first Mass; I celebrated the second; then I served the Mass of my colleague. It occurred to me to ask the Virgin for the grace that Conchita could receive Communion on that day. And if we weren’t able to give her Communion ourselves, I added to myself, that the Angel would bring it to her. The girls had a real desire of receiving Communion; but due to their occupations, they couldn’t always receive it.
I then noticed that there were some people talking outside the church. Their number increased. They tried to get in, but finding the door closed, they stayed where they were, talking under the roof overhang.»_______
Under such conditions, how could he get out of the church to advise Conchita? Father José Ramón mentions how he arranged to leave furtively and run to Conchita’s house. Continuing his report:
«I arrived while her mother was cooking the hot food that Conchita had to bring to her brothers in the mountains for their lunch. I asked to see Conchita and her mother answered in a sharp tone:
—You priests, you are going to spoil my daughter. Look, I don’t know how long she has been at the Pines with some priests, when she ought to be on the road taking lunch to her brothers. By now they should be really hungry.
—I want to tell Conchita that if she wishes to receive Communion, she can do it now . . .
—Receive Communion, receive Communion! Duty before devotion! One thing above all. She should already be over there with her brothers!»
21. Spoken Spanish makes no distinction between a ‘b’ and a ‘v’, pronouncing them both like a ‘b’
22. The thrill of that August Monday did not easily fade from the memory of the three fortunate brothers. Even on August 12th, Brother Miguel of the Saints at the Psychiatric Institute of Mondragón wrote to Conchita like this:
Since so many people pass through over there, I don’t know if you still remember Brother Miguel of the Saints. I am one of the three brothers of St. John of God who were there on the past August 6th, and were witnesses to the time that the Archangel St. Michael gave you Communion.
What moments were those! As time passes, I am more impressed each day by what my eyes saw . . .
Greetings to your mother. Tell her that everything that is happening with you can be from no place but heaven. Through some things that have happened, I see in a clear manner that the hand of the Most Holy Virgin is there. We await hearing