In the early days of June, not only what is called the Catholic world, but the entire world was closely following what was happening in the pope’s chamber at the Vatican.
There struggling in his last agony, was the one who had captured more swiftly and amply than anyone before, the admiration of almost everyone, and the love of a great many.
The final curtain was inexorably descending on Angelo Giusseppe Roncalli, the man called Pope John XXIII.
And the world was watching breathlessly for many days as he painfully died.
On June 3rd came the sudden notice that at last the flame had gone out. The Pope was dead.
As in so many other belfries throughout the world, the crude rustic bells in the church tower in Garabandal tolled for his death.
But beneath the clanging bells at Garabandal, a comment was made, very different from those made in other parts of the world.
The sound from the belltower came to the little kitchen where the widow Aniceta González and her daughter Conchita were on that afternoon.
— Listen; they are ringing the bells! — the daughter exclaimed immediately.
— It’s for the Pope — said the mother.
— Certainly . . . Now only three remain.
Surprised, Aniceta raised her head:
— What are you saying?
— What I heard. That only three popes remain.
— And where did you pick that up?
— I didn’t pick it up; the Virgin told it to me.
It would be helpful if Conchita would have explained to us when and how she heard this. But even lacking her explanation, we have sufficient reason to think that this occurred during the locutions, and presumably during the month of May, the month of Mary:
In a locution, since the apparitions had ceased since January, as described, and in their place were the locutions.
During the month of May, since these locutions were occurring at intervals approximately once per month, and during the locution in May she had talked about the Pope with his terminal illness.
Aniceta, amazed by what she had heard, reacted logically:
— Then, you mean that the end of the world is coming?
— The Virgin didn’t tell me “the end of the world," but “the end of the times."
— Aren’t they the same?
— I don’t know.(24)
News of this amazing prediction soon spread out; it was not shouted aloud, but spoken quietly from person to person.
During those days Paquina de la Roza Velarde (Dr. Ortiz’ wife) was in the village. One morning a funeral mass for the dead pope was to be said in the parish church, and the bells began to ring early in the morning. Paquina, Maximina, another woman and Conchita, after having prayed the rosary in the Calleja (How delightful were those rosaries in the silence and freshness of the morning!) made their way to the church. On their way they were speaking of the current news:
— Perhaps with the pope’s death, the Council(25) will end too, since . . .
Conchita: Another pope will come and the Council will continue.
— Well, I agree that another pope will come; but as for the Council . . . Perhaps the new pope won’t think like John XXIII.
— Another pope will come and the Council will continue.
— You seem to be very certain of that; but I don’t see it so certain. It could well happen otherwise.
— I’m telling you, and I repeat: another pope will come and the Council will continue. And I also tell you that only three popes remain . . .
Dr. Ortiz’ wife quickly recovered from her surprise and responded to Conchita:
— Oh, you are saying that from the prophecy of St. Malachy . . .
— St. Malachy? That’s the first time I heard of that. The Virgin told me that after this Pope (John XXIII) there remain only three; and afterwards, the end of the times.
— Do you mean the end of the world is coming?
— The Virgin told me, “the end of the times."
— That isn’t the same?
— I don’t know.
This episode is historically accurate(26) and Conchita’s statement cannot be taken for a simple, offhand remark, since she subsequently repeated it very seriously in the same words.
One time she told it to the eminent professor Father Lucio Rodrigo(27) at the Pontifical University in Comillas. This Father, on the occasion of a visit by Conchita and her mother,(28) asked the young girl if she had really said what had been attributed to her.
Conchita told him, «Yes Father. It’s true. The Virgin told me that after John XXIII only three popes remain, and this one, (Paul VI) is the first of those three.»
In October of 1966, Conchita became a boarder in the college of the teaching sisters of the Immaculate Conception at Burgos. On November 1st, the Feast of All Saints, she talked confidentially with the director of the center, Mother Nieves García. Among other things, she said this, which the religious sister wrote down very carefully:
«One day I said to the Virgin, ‘Will the end of the world be during the time of these events?’
And she told me, ‘No, the end of the times.’
After Paul VI, there will be only two more popes; and then the end of the times will come.»
24. Maximina, Conchita’s aunt and godmother, was present on the scene, judging from her letter which I saw in the Pifarré collection, dated June 5:
«On the day that the Holy Father died, when it was mentioned here that he died, I was with Conchita and she said: Oh, now only three more remain!
Slightly irritated, her mother spoke to her like this: What do you know?
And she answered with great conviction, Well, I know, since the Virgin told me this.
Her mother didn’t like her to say things like this since, although it could be seen that she believed, you know she always had the fear that this wasn’t true . . .»
25. Vatican II, convoked and inaugurated by John XXIII, had only finished one session (October-December, 1962) during which it had taken a direction that certainly was not what its planners had intended. The Council had just begun, and it was expected to continue, but all this depended on what the new Pope would decide.
26. Conchita spoke again about the three Popes that remained and the end of the times. It happened in Maximina’s house during the First Communion dinner of her son, Pepe Luis, to which Mrs. Ortiz was invited. Conchita repeated the same thing, without being able to give the explanations that the listeners’ curiosity desired.
27. † March 30th, 1973. On his deathbed he declared that he had received an unequivocal sign from heaven about the truth of Garabandal.
28. For some time Aniceta and Conchita traveled regularly to the seminary at Comillas — taking advantage of the cars of friends and acquaintances — to have their confessions heard by this priest.
Father Rodrigo wrote to Father Ramón on November 13th, 1965:
«A fortnight ago on Tuesday, the pastor of Barro brought Aniceta and Conchita to me . . . While I was alone with Conchita, she confirmed that the Virgin had told her on the death of John XXIII that there remain only 3 Popes (counting the present) until the end of the times.»
In this letter there is another interesting thing:
«She (Conchita) also told me: As the people were talking about trips to space, I asked the Virgin if there were persons living out there, and she told me: "Yes," but she didn’t add anything more.»