From the girl's letters we can imagine how the first winter of the mystery passed at Garabandal. At least, how it passed for the girls.
Each new day was inaugurated with sacrifice and prayer: breaking away from the comfort and pleasant warmth of their beds to go out into the darkness and cold, searching for early morning contact with heaven. The calleja — that had so often known the waiting and the footsteps of the crowds — now welcomed in intimate silence and freezing cold those girls, shivering at times, who were quietly coming to give to God through Mary the first moments of their daily life. Sometimes there were two or three more persons, but no other company or protection than their Guardian Angels.
The passage of cold fronts over the savage mountain terrain had covered the nearby peaks with the white snows of December. Frequently the snow also blanketed the area of the Cuadro with a strange brilliance in the vanishing darkness. And the murmur of prayer seemed to shiver in the air.
On those icy mornings, silence reigned; only an occasional distant sound could be heard. During the rainy mornings the pattering of raindrops sounded monotonously, mixing with the whirring wind . . .
— Hail Mary . . . The Lord is with you . . . Blessed are you . . .
— Holy Mary, Mother of God and our mother, pray for us sinners . . .
Sinners! SINNERS! How much should be done for them! Imploring the mercy of God. Doing penance for those who would not even think about penance.
In a letter on January 11th, Mari Cruz wrote to Fr. José Ramón:
«Yes, I go every day at six in the morning to the Cuadro; the Virgin told me to pray the rosary every day at this time, up until January 16th, when I'll see her again. You know that the Virgin wants us to be very good, and to visit the Blessed Sacrament.»
The day — beginning painfully and piously like this — had to continue for God, through daily work,(26) through docile obedience, through the faithful fulfillment of duties. And so they responded to the Virgin's desires and instructions. And to prevent possible discouragement, they had the hope of seeing her again and the remembrance of those heavenly hours in which they had seen her.
The remembrance had to be wonderful, especially at certain times. Even when those years were over, and with a great darkness of doubts upon her,(27) Conchita could answer like this, with her typical moderation, to a series of questions that had been made to her in writing:
— The first time that we saw the Virgin, she appeared to us suddenly. She came with two angels and the Child Jesus, and there was an Eye above everything, with great light.
— She always appeared suddenly, only sometimes she brought the Child and other times she didn't.
— Her posture, was it always the same? Or different? What was it usually?
— Her usual posture was with her arms open and extended, looking at us; but she also moved her arms. She looked toward the village, and at times she smiled more than others.
— What was the background of the vision?
— Brilliant light.
— What were her eyes like? Did she blink during the conversation?
— Her eyes were dark, very soft and merciful! Rather large. It seemed as if she didn't look at the face, nor at the body, but at the soul! I don't remember if she blinked; but she did look from one side to the other
— Did she weep sometimes? Or was she only sad?
— I never saw her weep, or completely sad.
— What was her expression?
— Her expression is difficult to describe. It makes one love her more and think more about her. Looking at her face made us totally happy; and her looking at us, even more so. When she spoke to us, she looked at us, and her expression changed during her conversation.
— What did you feel when she looked at you?
— Many things!
— What was her voice like? A real voice corresponding to the movements of her lips? Or only a voice heard interiorly without sounds?
— Her voice is very sweet and melodious. It was heard through the ears, although her words penetrated into the heart; it was as if she put her voice inside us. And as she spoke, she moved her lips with the sounds like other people. She spoke with a very clear voice!
— Did she laugh sometimes or did she limit herself to smiling?
— Yes, sometimes she laughed in addition to the smile that was habitual with her. Her laugh could be heard like her words; but the laugh was more than the speech. I don't know how to explain her laugh! I could never explain it.(28)
— Did she kiss you frequently? Did you ask her to kiss you, or did she do it on her own?
— She kissed us almost every day, and it came from her. They were kisses of farewell on both cheeks. Sometimes I asked her to permit me to kiss her, and at other times I kissed her without asking.
— Did she sometimes carry a rosary or some other noticeable article on her?
— I saw nothing except the scapular.
— What did you feel during the ecstasies?
— A very great peace and happiness!
— If after a call you would have said, “Today I don't wish to see the Virgin," what do you think would have happened?
— Oh! I never thought of doing that! Nor would I have thought of doing it for any reason.
— What did you feel after a vision?
— When I finished seeing the Virgin, it was as if I had left heaven . . . with a great desire to love Jesus and Mary, and to speak about them to people, which is the only thing that can give us joy: hearing and speaking about the Virgin.(29)
The year 1961 was to be marked as a great Year of Grace.
During it, from secluded San Sebastián de Garabandal, God presented to his Church — and through the Church, to the world — a resplendent MARIAN EPIPHANY.
Words cannot adequately express our gratitude. But let us address the one who came to make this new VISITATION:
Heed the wretched; aid the weak,
Comfort the weeping; pray for your people.
Protect the clergy; intercede for your children.
And give your assistance to all who turn toward You.
25. Epiphany comes from the Greek and signifies manifestation or unveiling. The word is used to indicate the arrival and revelation of something distant and hidden.
26. In ending her letter of December 11th, Mari Cruz wrote:
«Now we don't go to gather firewood, since we have to go to school, and the vacation has ended. Well, we brought a lot of wood, but it will soon be burned up.»
This shows that if the schoolwork had an intermission during the Christmas vacation, another harsher work came to occupy her time: The work of going to the mountains to gather wood for the fireplace.
And so these children of the Virgin — in days that for so many other children are strictly vacations and parties — had to spend their time in the difficult task that I had personally think Mary had in her days in Nazareth.
27. This characteristic phenomenon of Garabandal will be discussed later.
28. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus mentions a similar thing in her autobiography in reference to the miracle by which she was cured of an extremely unusual illness at 10 years of age:
"Suddenly the statue of the Virgin became alive! The Virgin Mary became beautiful, so beautiful that I would never be able to find words to describe this divine beauty. Her face shone with a gentleness, a goodness, an ineffable tenderness; but what penetrated deep into my soul was her smile."
(History of a Soul)29. Extract from Garabandal 1967 by A.M. de Santiago. (Edition Circulo-Saragossa)
Conchita added these lines to her answers:
«July 18, 1966 — Forgive the poor writing, but I don't have much time . . . Today there is a fiesta going on in the village.»
What Conchita says corresponds admirably with what the liturgy for the feast of the Immaculate Conception proclaims:
You are all beautiful, Mary.
And there is no stain of sin in you.
Your robe is white as snow.
And your face is luminous as the sun.
You are the glory of Jerusalem.
You are the joy of Israel.
You are the honor of our people.