Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Memoirs of a Spanish Country Priest (Chapter XXI)


CHAPTER XXI

The Girls’ Penances

“It is necessary to do much penance…”

(First message of October 18, 1961)

“The Most Holy Virgin wants us always to do penance.”

(Conchita’s Diary)

Here is a chapter which will forever remain incomplete. Who can completely describe all the little girls’ penances? We well know that they were performed, that they were many, but how many? Of what type? Many remain forgotten, hidden to mortal view. God alone knows the number and the details…

I want to relate here the history of a “cilice” (a wire girdle with sharp metallic points to irritate the skin) of which Conchita was the heroine, and of which I was the eyewitness.

This was a part of the story of Garabandal that was totally spontaneous. Conchita, in her love for the Most Holy Virgin, inspired by a desire to follow her counsels, went on to perform this type of penance to the point of blood.

In the summer of 1962, I was passing some time in Garabandal, and I was lodged with Maximina, the aunt and godmother of Conchita.

In the morning I got up and went to the bathroom. Maximina thought that I had left for church and went into my room to clean it. On the night table, I had placed a cilice — made up of metallic points — which is worn around the waist. Maximina had never seen or held in her hand such an object, but she had heard it spoken about. She was somewhat surprised. About the same time, Conchita came to the house of her aunt, who said to her, “Look Conchita, this is what one must do to become a saint…”

Cilice_2004

I was unaware of all this conversation. I finished washing, returned to my room, and then left to accompany Conchita to the pastures. I used to accompany the girls — one day one, another day another, and the members of their families — to help them as I could, in the gathering of hay.

That day, I had to go with Conchita to a place called “Piedrajita” located about 5 kilometers northeast of Garabandal. Over a small bridge we crossed the Vendul river and began the ascent to the Piedrajita. Conchita carried on her shoulders a wicker basket as the mountain people are accustomed to use in the valley of Pas (province of Santander). She was carrying lunch for all those who worked in the fields that day.

To me it seemed somewhat ungallant to permit a 13-year-old girl to carry 20 to 25 kilos of food and dinnerware, so I asked her to hand me the basket. She was about to give it to me without any discussion, when she laughed and said to me:

— “No, you can hurt your waist…”

At that time I didn’t know the reason for this remark, but Conchita’s words got me thinking. We took some rest on the way, for the pasture was rather far away and the sun was beginning to be felt. I don’t remember any more the exact words of our conversation; but I know that Conchita tried very skillfully during the course of it to lead me to the subject which interested her. Thus she was talking to me about certain priests who performed penance by wearing around their waists types of belts made of iron wire with protruding sharp points, doing this for mortification. She said to me then:

— “You want to carry the basket?”

Gladly I answered affirmatively, but she:

— “No, you will hurt your waist.”

I knew then that she was aware of something and I asked her:

— “Who told you about it? The Angel, the Virgin, or your aunt Maximina?”

Very surprised, she answered, “My aunt Maximina told me.”

Then she recounted to me how she had learned about it, as I have previously described. Then she asked me in a very confidential way to give her the cilice. But I told her that I would bring her a new one on my next trip to Garabandal. She insisted on having the same one that she had seen. On returning to the village, I gave it to her and she was very happy.

On the first trip I made after that to Garabandal, I brought several new cilices with me. My intention was to take back the one Conchita wore, to keep it as a souvenir, but it was not easy to obtain. Conchita showed a very unusual intuition and it turned out to be very difficult to fool her.

I asked her to make an exchange of the new cilice for the one which she was wearing, but she responded that she preferred the former one. Then I made the remark that it was desirable, for reasons of hygiene, that she have a new one. She told me that she cleaned it every day with alcohol…

I was about to admit myself defeated, and I did not know what more to say to achieve my aim, when she decided suddenly to give me the cilice without more problems.

From this cilice, there only remain a few fragments, which I conserve carefully. The remainder has been distributed in France for souvenirs.

I am certain that Mary Loli also used the cilice that I gave her. Jacinta’s mother forbid her to wear one. I did not give any to Mari Cruz since she was younger, smaller, and in less robust health.

I pointed out to Conchita that these penances were not the best, that interior penances were preferable. Nevertheless, she afflicted herself often with this type of mortification in her desire to obey the Most Holy Virgin because She “wants us always to do penance” as Conchita reports in her diary.

 
St_aspais_melun_-_cilice
Cilice (hair shirt) of St. Louis in the church of St. Aspais of Melun