During the last days of September and early days of October, 1962, an ancient saying was re-enacted: All roads lead to Rome. All the roads saw the passage of Catholic bishops with their retinue answering the call of St. Peter’s successor.
The Bishop of Santander was leaving for Rome too. But before departing, on a day as distinguished as October 7th, the feastday of the Most Holy Rosary, he signed his name to a new «Nota» on Garabandal, influenced by the Commission. It pronounced the following:
The Special Commission, which has studied the events that have been happening in the village of San Sebastián de Garabandal, ratifies its previous declarations, judging that the phenomena lack all sign of supernatural character and have a natural explanation.
As a consequence, and with our desire that all the people of our diocese be properly informed, and that all who have any connection with the events have secure direction, in fulfillment of our pastoral obligation, and in making use of our authority:
1) We confirm in all its statements the official «Notas» of this bishopric of Santander dated on August 26th and October 24th of 1961.
2) We prohibit all priests, both in the diocese and outside the diocese, and all religious, even those exempt, from going to the location mentioned without express permission from the diocesan chancery.
3) We repeat to all the faithful the warning that they should abstain from fomenting the atmosphere created by the display of those events; and because of this, they should refrain from going to the village for this reason.
In a question of such seriousness, we hope that you will all be prompt in complying with these regulations.
Eugenio, Bishop of Santander(8)
It can be seen how the Commission in charge of Garabandal continues singing the same song in the same key. “The phenomena lack all sign of supernatural character, and have a natural explanation." Brilliant deduction! A double affirmation that the Commission pretends to impose, without ever giving evidence or explanations. The members of the Commission would demand that we trust absolutely in their word, that is to say, in their competence and authority.
We would be glad to do so, if there were not so many indications of the inadequate way of procedure in which they carried out this matter. We would do so if we did not have the evaluations of others; who as for quality are on the same plane as they; and as for quantity leave them far behind. And furthermore, these others have followed the progression of the phenomena much closer at hand and with greater attention.
We can observe that if the official evaluation of the phenomena continues on the same key, the disciplinary announcements are accentuating in hostility. What Doroteo Fernández stated in his last «Nota» of October 24th, 1961: “The priests should abstain absolutely from whatever could contribute to creating confusion among the Christian people," is changed in this first «Nota» from the new bishop to: “We prohibit all priests . . . From going to the location mentioned."
The 1961 statement: “The faithful should not let themselves be seduced by every wind of doctrine," has progressed into: “They should abstain from fomenting the atmosphere . . . They should refrain from going to the village."(9)
With such pronouncements began the siege of Garabandal. Or perhaps it could be said that they were coming to close in the circle already existing, since for many months, there had existed a situation very much like a state of siege.
The effects of that third episcopal «Nota»—the first by Bishop Beitia—certainly did not give complete satisfaction to the Commission; but it was sufficiently derogatory so that there could be noted a considerable drop in the number of visitors and interested people coming to the village. On the back of a postcard, which was dated October 25th, Mari Loli wrote to the pastor of Barro:
«Many fewer people are coming than came before the publication of the Nota from the bishop; but every day someone comes.»
And Fr. Luis López Retenaga, from the seminary of San Sebastián, remarks in a report written two months later:
«The Nota from the bishopric of Santander on October 7th has plunged many eyewitnesses of the phenomena into unusual confusion, since they had come to the conclusion that the phenomena were caused by supernatural intervention. It has instilled in them an interior struggle, in which the conclusions of their reasons have to yield to the requirements of a life of faith. »
This statement from the distinguished priest seems a little exaggerated to me. No life of faith coerces us to share the opinion of the diocesan chancery in matters not defined— in this case, not definable — where different points of view can be held for different reasons.
What is obliged by a life of faith is to comply with what is legitimately commanded. Neither priests nor faithful have the obligation to think like their bishop in what refers to Garabandal; but they do have an obligation to obey the specific regulations that — within his authority— he establishes.
The harsh Episcopal «Nota» produced the result intended. In Spain during those days, when a bishop spoke, it was as if he spoke with the voice of infallibility. A bishop was, for a vast majority of people, the Church itself. As a consequence, the matter of Garabandal was placed in a situation of suspect and quarantine.
But what importance did this have? In Rome they were turning on all the lights: the Catholic spectacle of the century was about to begin.
The night of October 10th, the great vigil, was a night of waiting and excitement. I do not know if the pope slept much, or if those responsible for the Council slept well that night.
But I do know that far from the Eternal City, in little Garabandal, poor and now suspect, a vigil was being held on that night too. An excerpt from the Memorias of the pastor of Barro summarizes it:
«I passing the night of October 10th to 11th in a vigil in Conchita’s kitchen. On the 10th, the press had published the Nota of the bishop, signed on October 7th.
I had come to Garabandal with the Spanish ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alberto Mestas. That night we were waiting in the kitchen of the house. For amusement during the long vigil, we were playing ‘educational questions’ with Conchita. Let’s see who comes the closest to giving the time the Virgin will come, she said. Each of us gave a time; Conchita herself gave hers. For my part, I said it would be 8 o’clock in the morning, since that was the time when the Council was going to start.
Everyone’s time was passing, even Conchita’s. And everyone was succumbing to sleep; some even retired. I decided to stay awake, intending to advise the others when the girl’s ecstasy came. And actually sleep didn’t come to me that night . . .
Conchita’s radio was playing, and when it began to broadcast the solemn ceremony of the inauguration of the Council with the procession of the Conciliary Fathers, I noticed that the girl started to go into ecstasy. As I had foreseen, the trance coincided exactly with the time for the Council . . .»
But it was not only this great event that was “coincided exactly with the time for the Council.” discussed in those minutes of converse with heaven. After the ecstasy, the visionary was questioned. Had she asked the Virgin any questions? Yes, she had asked «why the bishop had given the Nota that had come in the newspaper on the previous day.
—And what did the Virgin answer?
—The Virgin didn’t answer, she only smiled.»
Perhaps the pretensions of some, the fears of others had made her smile . . . The pretensions of those seeking to end this, the fears of those who were thinking that this could end . . . How many of our activities make God laugh! Indulgently, and at times not so indulgently. Why have the gentiles raged: and the people devised vain things? . . . He that dwells in heaven shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall deride them. (Psalms 2:1-5)
Well could it be that the Virgin smiled on that occasion, seeing the future of Garabandal, above and beyond all the episcopal «Notas», so full of zeal.
Would she be smiling also, viewing the future of the Church, beyond the grandiose and sometimes agitated conciliar sessions?
We do not know. But we do know that the Holy Father certainly smiled at that time, and with unbounded optimism, before the unparalleled change that he expected in the Church as a result of the Council. On that Tuesday morning, at the inaugural ceremony, October 11th, 1962, the feast of the Maternity of Mary, John XXIII spoke to the Fathers of the Council:
Venerable Brothers: Today the Holy Church rejoices, because by virtue of a special gift from Divine Providence, the longed for day of the solemn inauguration of Ecumenical Council Vatican II has come.
It seems necessary for us to say that we do not think as prophets of doom who only foretell catastrophic events . . .
Here we are united, in the Vatican Basilica, at a turning point in the history of the Church, where heaven and earth are united in these difficult times . . . The Council now starting appears in the Church as a guide promising a brilliant light.
Now it is only the dawn, the first announcement of the day to come. With what joy our heart is filled!
Certainly good words and good sentiments. Years later, what we now have in the Church, does it correspond to what an optimistic pontiff was expecting from the Council on its inaugural day?
I do not know how to answer that. And within the Church, many conflicting opinions are found.
The immediate successor to that pontiff, Pope Paul VI himself, bursts forth in praise of the Council’s work as he laments the many things that have occurred in the time after the Council . . .
Among his complaints, certainly none is more disturbing and more spontaneous than that of June 29th, 1972 on the feastday of St. Peter:
We regret to have to stave off the wave of profanation, desacralization, and secularization which arises, which oppresses, which seeks to confound and surpass religious sentiment, and even make it disappear . . .
If one were to ask us what the Church is today, could one calmly compare its situation with the words that Peter has left us in heritage?(10) Can we be calm?
It was believed that after the Council would come a day of sunshine for the Church. What has come is a day of clouds, of storms, of darkness, of groping, of uncertainty . . . We predicted ecumenism, and each day we separate more one from another. We are digging abysses, instead of filling them.
How could this have occurred? We confide to you our thought: a power has intervened, an adverse power. We have mentioned his name: the devil . . .It is said that a satanic breath has entered through a crack in the Temple of God. There are doubts, uncertainties, problems, restlessness, dissatisfaction, confrontation. People do not have confidence in the Church. They have more confidence in the first worldly prophet who speaks through a newspaper or social movement . . . To follow him . . . Doubt has entered into our conscience, and it has entered across windows that should have been open to the light. Doubt has come with respect to everything that exists, to everything that we know . . .All this was unforeseeable on that morning of October, 1962, when in Rome the bells of St. Peter’s were ringing joyously, and in Garabandal the young girl was asking the Virgin about the Council.
Yes, completely unforeseeable . . . to men; but not to Her who was coming to that lost mountain village because she saw what was going to come.
8. Bishop Eugenio Beitia Aldazábal was the new titular bishop. It had been several months since he had succeeded the apostolic administrator Bishop Doroteo Fernández as head of the diocese. And so Bishop Beitia was the second of the Bishops from Santander who had to face the question of Garabandal.
With what result? On being nominated for the bishopric of Santander, a long and fruitful episcopate was expected, perhaps due to the holy memory of Bishop José Iguino Treco; but the hopes did not last long.
9. I do not know what the bishop from Santander feared for the faithful who were going there. The testimonies that we have indicate that the visitors never suffered any peril. Here is what Luis Navas said on Friday, September 28th, 1962:
«It was a day of thick fog at the base of the mountains, which was degenerating into rain. In the afternoon we assisted at the rosary and Father Elísio spoke to us about the Virgin. At that time I had no desire to be at Lourdes or Fatima. I had the sensation of being under the direct influence, immediate and maternal, of Our Lady.»
10. This refers to words from the first epistle of St. Peter (2:9) that he had mentioned at the beginning of his homily.