Friday, May 30, 2014

Memoirs of a Spanish Country Priest (Chapter III)


August 22nd, 1961
My first visit to Garabandal was the consequence of a casual conversation with the Cure of San Claudio at Leon, Father Manuel Anton. He was taking his vacation at Barro where I had recently taken charge of the parish. He spoke to me about events which were taking place in a diocese near to Santander, 57 kilometers from my place. He told me that apparitions had started on the previous June 18, less than two months before my arrival at Barro on the following August 10. I questioned him briefly and the interview aroused my curiosity.
I set out with my father on a motorcycle on August 22, led on, I admit, by curiosity. As we were coming from Barro it was necessary to go up and descend until reaching Cosío, and from there climb 600 meters higher by a very bad road. At the last turn on this difficult climb Garabandal appeared, a little village of 270 people, humble, very plain, isolated to itself, but charming. In front of us, above the houses , about 200 meters higher, was a grove of 9 pine trees on the first ramp of the mountains. On the horizon at the left was Pena Sagra; we were on the foothills of the Picos de Europa.
My first question was not long in coming. “When will the apparitions take place?” Someone answered me, “Father, these strange happenings begin at nightfall. After the recitation of the rosary in the church, the children usually fall into ecstasy under the church portico.”
We had to stay longer than we thought since the motorcycle which had brought the two of us, worn down after Cosío, did not want to go on. My father, who had an appointment with his doctor on the following day at Oviedo, therefore left alone by taxi. I learned later of happenings on the trip that were truly providential.
While waiting for the rosary, I familiarized myself with the winding and rocky little alleys, talking with a priest from Burgos and observing the visionaries from afar. “Three of them are 12 years of age,” my companion said, “The fourth is 11; but all of them appear to have the education of 7 year old children from our cities.”
The first one that I encountered was Loli. She was running around a jeep parked in front of the door of the house where she lived. Afterwards Mari Cruz and Conchita, who were accustomed to go out together. Jacinta, I did not see until the evening while in ecstasy.
I took some photographs of Mari Cruz and Loli which I carefully keep with many others. Around the neck they wore rosaries and chains with medals. Some one informed me, “During their ecstasies they give them to the Vision to kiss. They belong to persons gathered in the village, brought there by curiosity or simple faith.”
“At the beginning,” someone added, “They presented — for the Vision to kiss — little stones which they had picked up from the streets and which they later gave to those around them. You won’t see them present these little stones anymore, for the visionaries have now gone on to religious articles.”
At nightfall, on this August 22, 1961, I returned to the church near the altar of the Blessed Sacrament in the sanctuary.
It seemed simple and welcoming to me, this small church of the mountain, dedicated to St. Sebastian, whose feast the parishioners had obtained permission to celebrate in the summer, following a solemn procession, on the 18th of July.
In the middle of the retable, above and behind the tabernacle, is the statue of the glorious martyr, commander of the Praetorian Guard of the Emperor Diocletien. On each side on a pedestal is a large statue: the one is the Sacred Heart of Jesus; the other is the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
At the entry to the church, at the right, is the altar of the Immaculate Conception. The Virgin wears a white robe and a blue mantle, which has led someone to say that this statue influenced the girls before the apparitions began. This proves that whoever said it was completely unaware of how our Lady of Mount Carmel was dressed when she appeared to St. Simon Stock in 1251, more than 700 years ago. On the other side of the church, the gospel side, there is another altar with a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This time — to refute completely the argument — clothed all in brown. In a dark chapel in the back of the church, behind grates, is the baptismal font.
There is a choir loft, filled with men on Sundays. The entrance is on the left side of the church. A massive tower, with bells sounding in all directions, is climbed from outside by an attached stone stairway under an overhang on the right side of the entrance. Under the portico roof is a stone bench where the pastor at the time, Father Valentín Marichalar, had the habit of sitting with his parishioners to chat a little before the services.
Now I return to my first entrance into the church. I deliberately chose the first step in the sanctuary on the left side of the altar, reflecting, “If this is from God, it is here I will see the most important things.” To a woman who had come up to the village for the first time like myself, I told my feelings. And that is what happened.
I prayed with devotion and implored Our Lord to soon clarify the meaning of these events. It was not to be that way on that 22nd of August, 1961. His judgments are different from those of men, and especially my own, because He knows in advance the best way to act and the hour to be awaited. We have already mentioned that He alone can write straight with curved lines.
On that day, as if by chance, in Garabandal were five priests from Asturias of my archdiocese of Llanes and a canon from our cathedral of Oviedo. With them was a Jesuit priest who several months later was to become one of my best friends: Father Ramón Maria Andreu Rodamillans.
The holy rosary was recited, led by Father Andreu, since he was a Jesuit religious. Before beginning he spoke some words from the foot of the altar. “These happenings are worthy of attention.” he said, “Here is a field of study for theologians, mystics, psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors.” However he did not speak in public of the supernatural. Contrary to what was falsely reported, the word was never used.
The rosary finished and the people having left the church, muffled noises could be heard outside and a voice that was repeating, “The children are already in ecstasy.”
The pastor, Father Valentín, came up to me to ask me to close the church in order to prevent the spectators from re-entering when the children came back. “It is not possible,” he explained, “To repeat what happened on the previous days. There was such a crowd that the people climbed up on the pulpit, on top of the pews, breaking everything. They seemed to have little respect for the holy place where they were.”
I was not enthusiastic about doing what he told me, for I felt that it was impossible to control such a numerous and curious crowd. I told him so frankly. He retorted sharply, “But they’ll respect your decision better than mine. Do it.”
Arriving in ecstasy at the church, Mari Cruz tripped over the doorway and fell inside near the altar of the Immaculate Conception. The other three, also in ecstasy, fell on top of her, and formed with her a human sculptural tableau of admirable elegance. I am not able to describe it because of its incredible harmony and inexpressible splendor. Nor could I describe my astonishment. In spite of the sudden fall and the unexpected position that resulted, the girls’ clothes remained in their walking position, and their dresses covered even their knees. To the splendor and harmony of the picture was added the most exquisite Christian modesty.
Getting up without assistance and gracefulness, raised up as if by an interior force, the children left the church and made their way through the village still in ecstasy.
On my part, I returned to the altar slowly, having only one concern: to pray interiorly to the Blessed Sacrament and ask Him with insistence to enlighten the Bishop of Santander and those who were charged with studying such activities.
Several times the children returned to the church two by two: Conchita and Mari Cruz; Jacinta and Loli. They came to place themselves close to me on the first step of the altar. I had only to turn my head slightly, to see perfectly the unfolding of these phenomenon, mystical at first glance. They prayed with fervor and with a hushed voice in front of the tabernacle. All their appearance was of admirable beauty, the head tilted backwards, the face transparent, as if lit up from the interior by a light which would have been dazzling had it not been tempered by a beautiful softness.