In Garabandal on October 17th, the night before, there was a thrill in the air. Forerunners of the countless masses of people expected began to arrive . . .
And through all the streets, down all the trails, in all the houses, in all the minds of the villagers and visitors alike, was the same question, What will happen tomorrow?(20)
All through the day people were talking more than working. The tension of waiting in Garabandal was too great to be able to apply oneself normally to doing any work that could be avoided.
In some people the anticipation was coupled with joyful confidence; in others, with anxious apprehension. What if nothing happened? What would be the fate of Garabandal if the swarms of people who were coming went away completely disillusioned?
One of the most uneasy of those in the village at the time was the parish priest, the good Father Valentín Marichalar. This affair concerned him so much! And he did not have things in control . . . He could not doubt the heavenly reality of the unusual phenomena — he had received so many proofs in favor of them. But so many things could happen! The plans of God are unsearchable.
The parents of the visionaries also were uneasy. They did not doubt the sincerity of their daughters; but they were confronting things so beyond their ordinary experience that they did not know what to make of them.
Certainly the girls themselves, the ones most directly involved of all those in the village at the time, were the most calm. They could not doubt that it was the Virgin with whom they were conversing, and they could trust the Virgin . . .
Fr. Ramón María Andreu also shared the children's tranquility. Completely recuperated from the accident that he had a few days before, he was sure that he was going to be a fortunate witness of new marvels.
Years later he stated to the editor of the French version of Conchita's diary:
«I had arrived at St. Sebastián de Garabandal on October 17th. During the course of that day, and also during the following day, the 18th, I saw tremendous crowd swarm into the village.
I was very happy and relaxed; there was no reason for not being that way. During the months of August and September, and even during October, I had been a witness of many events in the mountain village. I had recollections filled with happy memories. Everything was for the best.»
During the hours of October 17th, it was especially the fans, or quasi fans of the apparitions who were arriving in the village; since they had friends or acquaintances there, they could count on not being forced to pass the night under the stars.
As the weather was stormy, the kitchens in Garabandal were filled that night with meetings and conversations, and the time passed amid anticipation and discussion . . .
There was a rosary in the church as usual; also as usual, there was an apparition. I think that the vigil that night had to be very long and animated.
Far from there, in innumerable places, there were also innumerable vigils of hope and expectation by those who were going to set out early on the following morning for the distant refuge that might give them health, or consolation, or faith, or security, or a solution to their problems. And they really had to have great hope to set out on the unpleasant journey.
During the night of October 17th and continuing into the morning of the 18th, it rained until it could rain no more. In the darkness and the silence, throughout the width and breadth of the Cantabrian countryside, could be heard the tremendous booming symphony of water falling and then flowing . . . monotonously, rapidly, without pause . . . The Torrents of Heaven seemed inexhaustible. Mountains and valleys resounded with the gushing of rivulets, streams and rivers. Raindrops could be heard pounding relentlessly upon the tree leaves. Uncountable puddles grew into lakes as the night watched. And those that slept or tried to sleep in the towns and cities were serenaded by the monotonous sound of falling rain and swirling water.
Before the light of dawn could filter through the dense fog on October 18th, many vehicles of every type began to start up their motors. And departures continued into the long hours of the morning.
«On October 18th, 1961» — María Herrero tells us in her report — «I awoke to pouring rain throughout the province of Santander. We left at an early hour from the capital of the Montaña, and there on the mountain of Carmona(21) we had to get into a caravan, a very long caravan of cars preceding us, which without doubt was gong as we were towards San Sebastián de Garabandal.
It is three kilometers from Puente Nansa to Cossío; and I think at least one kilometer had its roadsides totally covered with empty buses and cars. We succeeded in arriving at Cossío and with difficulty were able to find a spot where we could park our car.
And then we had six terrible kilometers facing us. The rain, which was not stopping, had converted the road upwards into a quagmire.
Holding an umbrella in one hand and keeping the other hand free in case of a spill, we began the trip on foot. There were spots in which I succeeded in gaining a step, and later, due to the slippery ground, lost two.
I remember that trip up as a true way of Calvary . . . A good symbol of the sacrifice and penance that was going to be asked from us by the message. Our painful journey lasted more than three hours, even though we wanted to quicken it by taking a shortcut that turned out to be much harder than the road itself.»
What this witness experienced was also being experienced at the same time by thousands of persons of every state and condition. Their hope and desire had to be very strong to uphold them. Not by an affliction of hysteria, nor to take part in a game of children, were they doing this.
Beyond all the discomfort of their ill-treated bodies, their hearts pulsated with the psalm:
Toward you, land of salvation . . .
Pilgrims marching on . . .
Let us go on to you!
Under the implacable rain, the village was being flooded with wandering pilgrims streaming in. What was the situation like?
«We arrived»—Doña María tells us — «toward1:30 in the afternoon. The crowd was swarming everywhere . . . in hope of the event. I thought that everyone was waiting for — I don't know what — something truly extraordinary. I admit that I also was waiting for this, in spite of what Loli and Jacinta had advised me a few days previously: (as they advised everyone who wished to hear them) that they had no reason to expect a miracle, since the only thing that the Virgin had told them was that they had to make public a message, as they had so often foretold . . .
On seeing how everything was, I regretted not having gone to Mass before leaving Santander. Then someone said to me: Go to the church. They have been celebrating Masses almost without interruption since early morning. I ran — well I wanted to run — since there was such a crowd, I was only able to make my way to the church with difficulty. There was a Mass being celebrated at the time; it was the last one since the time permitted for it was ending.(22) I was surprised by the number of religious and priests who were there. Although it was not a day of obligation, I was glad not to miss Mass since it was a special day, celebrating the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, who spoke the most to us about the Virgin.»
20. Juan A. Seco reported:
«On the evening before October 18th-—because of what could happen—I went up to Garabandal with 28 guards under my command. Conchita, in ecstasy, came near to me and presented the cross for me alone to kiss. This indicated to me a guarantee that everything would turn out well, in spite of the enormous number of people who were gathering and the torrential rain that was falling throughout the day . . .»
21. Coming from Santander, the most direct way to Garabandal is through Cabezón de la Sal, Cabuérniga, Carmona, and Puente Nansa. Through the mountain at Carmona that María Herrero mentions, there is a narrow mountain pass that goes from a height of 622 meters down to the Nansa River.
22. It is to be remembered that in those days it was not permitted to celebrate evening Masses in Spain as it is today. At noon the time permitted by the rubrics for the celebration of Mass ended.