By Jim Dunning
(This article was originally published in "Irelands Own" magazine. The webmaster would like to gratefully thank the author, Mr. Jim Dunning, for his kind permission in reprinting it here.)
San Sebastian de Garabandal is a small farming village in the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. It was here that in June, 1961, four local girls claimed that an angel appeared to them in preparation for the coming of the Blessed Virgin under the title ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel.'
Interestingly, two of them were up to no good at the time, having gone out together to pinch apples from the local schoolmaster’s trees in a rocky lane called the ‘calleja’ which led up from the village to a group of nine pine trees. Joined by two of their friends, they sat munching apples somewhat guiltily ‘when‘, reported the twelve year old Conchita Gonzalez, ‘there appeared to me a very beautiful figure that shone brilliantly but did not hurt my eyes at all.’
Moments later her three companions had the same experience. When they returned home and described what had happened, they faced mixed reactions, most of which were unfavourable, but over the next eleven days they witnessed the appearance of the angel eight times. On the first seven occasions he had remained silent, but on the eighth he advised them that the Virgin Mary would appear to them on the following day.
They were not disappointed. On the next day, 2nd July, they saw the Virgin in the company of two angels, and the girls spoke to her at some length, telling her frankly about their daily lives. She, for her part, taught them how they should say the Rosary, and promised to return the following day. This appearance was the first of some two thousand over the next four years.
And just as Lucia dos Santos played the main role at Fatima, so did Conchita become the central figure during these appearances. She was the first to fall into a state of ecstasy and was accepted as the leader from the start. So much so, that the Church authorities in Santander summoned her to accuse her of dreaming up the whole event, and even persuaded her to sign a statement to that effect. During her absence and after her return from Santander, however, the apparitions continued as before, except that they sometimes took place in different locations, including the village itself.
(In the photo to the left, Father Luis is pictured to the extreme right, alongside his mother Maria Luisa)
There were reportedly only four visionaries at Garabandal, but their privilege was shared on one occasion by an adult. The fifth visionary was Fr. Luis Maria Andreu, a Jesuit priest. He was a brilliant young theology professor who became interested in the stories coming out of Garabandal. Although sceptical on his first visit to the area, believing satanic elements might be involved, he realised on his second visit, after studying the visionaries in ecstasy, that something very special was happening.
On the 8th August, 1961, he was among the crowd observing the girls at the pine grove where the visions often took place. Suddenly his face became tense and falling on his knees, he cried out loud : ‘Miracle, miracle, miracle, miracle!’
The four girls could see Fr. Luis, even though normally when in ecstasy they would see only the vision and each other. The Virgin told them that the priest was seeing her and a miracle, too. Conchita later wrote in her diary that the Virgin seemed to say to him, ‘You will soon be with Me.’
Fr. Luis left by car that same night with his travelling companions. They paused for a while at Cosio, three miles down the mountain road from Garabandal, where he went to meet the parish priest and said : ‘Don Valentin, what the children are saying is true, but I ask you not to repeat what I have just told you, for the Church can never be prudent enough in this kind of event.’
On the way home it was clear that Fr. Luis was overwhelmed with joy, repeating the words : ‘I am so happy! What a wonderful favour the Virgin has bestowed on me! How fortunate we are to have a Mother like that in Heaven! There is no reason to fear the supernatural life. The girls have shown us how we must act with the Blessed Virgin. There’s no doubt in my mind that the things involving the girls are true. But why should the Blessed Virgin have chosen us? This is the happiest day of my life!’ The final time he said this, he lowered his head to his chest, made a slight coughing sound, and then died.
He was just thirty-eight. The news spread fast. Everyone was shocked. The next day, when the Virgin appeared to the girls, she told them that she had appeared to Fr. Luis as well as to them and had shown him a preview of a great Miracle to come, after which he had died of joy. This was not the end of the priest’s involvement with Garabandal, however. Just eight days later, on 16th August, the Blessed Virgin said to all four of them, ‘Fr. Luis will come and speak to you now.’ As Conchita recorded in her diary, ‘A moment later, he called us one by one. We didn’t see him but only heard his voice. It was exactly like the one he had on earth.’
Fr. Luis spoke to the children and gave them some advice, as well as messages for his brother. More importantly, he sent a consoling message through them to his elderly mother, for whom news of his early death had come as a geat shock. ‘Be happy and content,’ he said, ‘for I am in Heaven and see you every day.’ What a comfort that must have been to her.
Almost three years after his burial in the Jesuit cemetery at Ona, on 14th July, 1964, Our Lady told Conchita during a locution (a voice without an accompanying vision), that on the day after the Great Miracle, the body of Fr. Luis will be removed and found to be as incorrupt as on the day he died. A statement that caused no little controversy, for in 1977 his tomb was opened and all that was found was a skeleton. But, it has been pointed out, Our Lady’s prophecy concerned only the day after the Great Miracle, so it remains to be seen whether yet another miracle is to take place!
And the Great Miracle itself? That is something we shall consider in the next article: -Garabandal and the Great Miracle
-‘Encountering Mary’ by Sandral Zimdars-Swartz
[Editors note: The alleged heavenly apparitions at Garabandal referred to in this article have not thusfar been officially approved or disapproved by the Catholic church, therefore Catholics are free to discern and form their own judgements concerning them.]