Maria Esperanza -Modern day mystic and messenger of hope


Servant of God Maria Esperanza (1928-2004) –A modern day Catholic mystic with a message of hope

Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini was born in Barrancas, Venezuela on the feast day of Saint Cecilia, November 22, 1928. Her mother, Maria Filomena, and father Aniceto Medrano had desperately wanted a daughter, as they already had three boys, and so the mother asked the Blessed Virgin, to grant her a girl. The birth occurred while Maria's mother was taking a trip by boat in search of better medical facilities for Maria’s birth. It was a very painful delivery, and during her pregnancy Maria's mother had often prayed before a picture of the Blessed Mother, offering the child to the Virgin Mary, and promising to name the child Maria (Spanish for Mary) if it was a girl, and Esperanza the Spanish word for "hope". And through the grace of God so came into the world "Mary Hope”, destined to lead others to Jesus through Mary.

As a child, Maria was often sick but she repeatedly recovered from mysterious disorders in a miraculous way, most notably surviving severe heart and respiratory maladies. It seems that God was preparing and purifying her through suffering, as is often the case with those called to a special mission in the Church. During her childhood, Maria showed a precocious interest in religious matters, often playing with dolls that were dressed as priests and nuns.

Her first mystical experience
At the age of five, she had her first mystical experience. While saying goodbye to her mother who was leaving on a trip, Maria Esperanza saw Saint Therese of The Child Jesus emerging from the waters of the Orinoco River. The saint tossed Maria a rose that she caught with her hand. It was a red rose and it had a velvet texture. She then gave it to her mother who was amazed because of the fact that there were no roses nearby.

Her miraculous cure
By the age of 12 she had developed such an acute case of pneumonia that her doctor didn't think she would live more than three days. "Mother of mine, would it be that you want me to come to you?" Maria asked. She then prayed, waiting for an answer. When she opened her eyes, the Blessed Virgin was smiling in front of her. Our Lady appeared to Maria as the Virgin of the Valley of Margarita (another apparition site off the coast of Venezuela) and told the girl what medication to take. Maria later learned that her father had a special devotion to the Virgin of the Valley, and on his deathbed he had called upon the Virgin to protect his wife and children. Our Lady's remedy turned out to be the medication that cured Maria.

A vision of Jesus
There were other trials during her youth, and so sick was Maria that she was fed through injection. Still, the young Esperanza never wavered in her faith. Praying another time for Christ to take her so she would no longer be such a burden to her family, Maria opened her eyes and this time saw the Heart of Jesus. It was full of light and dripping blood. "He was strong:' recalls Maria. "His eyes, how they penetrate. It's like radar the way He penetrates you with His eyes! It was so beautiful, beautiful eyes ... His face was so gentle!' When He appeared to Maria, Christ addressed her as "My white rose of love."

Instead of granting her death, the Lord and His Mother came to heal her. But they explained that life is a long series of trials, and that the bridge to Heaven is constructed through trials, purgation, and humility especially humility. "My daughter, when you begin your pilgrimage you will have many sufferings," Our Lady told her. "They are the pain of this mother. Help me. Help me to save this world which is going astray" And so began Maria's mystical journey at the age of twelve.

During her teenage years she received several mystical graces including the ability to read into hearts, and she often had the premonition of knowing when guests would arrive, or when her family or friends were sick, or if something significant had happened to them. Once she told a person who had been diagnosed with cancer, “It is just a problem with your vesicle and I feel you must be operated immediately”, he was operated and was healed. She also prayed upon a little boy who had Typhoid fever and the child was healed. On another occasion, she told a leprous woman to take a certain medication and following Maria’s instructions she was healed.

More mystical visions and heavenly graces
As she passed from adolescence into young adulthood, naturally her vocation in life was at forefront of her concerns. At first she wanted to become a nun and entered a convent in 1954. That same year, on October 3, at the end of a Mass, she had yet another implausible experience. Once again, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus appeared to her, and once more a rose was thrown to her. But this time when Maria went to catch it, as she had done as a girl of five, it wasn't a rose that landed in her hand. Rather, something pinched her right palm and blood began to seep from that hand. It was the onset of the stigmata. "This is not your vocation, yours is to be a wife and mother, " the Little Flower instructed her. Maria felt at that moment that she would eventually leave the convent and become a mother, working for the Lord in the world. Her vocation was to be that of a family woman.

A few days later on October 7, 1954, feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Mother of God gave her the following message, “In addition to daily Communion, fasting, prayer, and penance you must remain in deep reclusion, for I shall come again on October 12th so you may prepare your heart to be a spiritual mother of souls, and so I may seal it as such forever. Also, you shall be the mother of seven children: Six roses and a bud.”

Her wedding and marriage to Geo Bianchini Gianni
Soon after Maria went to Rome to live at the Ravasco Institute, run by Daughters of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary at the Vatican. One day she saw an apparition of a man waving a flag that was white, red, and green, and to her it was a sign that her future husband would be an Italian. Soon afterwards, an apparition of John Bosco announced to her that she would meet her future husband on November 1, 1955. And so it was in Rome, in front of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she met Geo Bianchini Gianni on November 1, exactly as was foretold to her.

The following October 13, the anniversary of the great miracle at Fatima, Our Blessed Mother told Maria she would be married on December 8, 1956 -the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Exactly as predicted, Geo and Maria were married that day in the choir chapel of the Immaculate Conception at St Peters Basilica.

Purchase of the land in Betania- Another vision becomes a reality
When Maria was a young woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary showed her in a vision a special piece of land with an old house, a waterfall, and a grotto. This vision was etched as it were into her mind. Maria had even discussed the vision with Padre Pio during a visit with him on one occasion. "From 1957 until 1974, we searched for this land in all of Venezuela" Geo explains. "In 1974, in February, we heard about a farm and decided, 'Let's see it! We called the guy in March and went to see it. When we arrived, Maria said, 'We have to buy this farm! In June we signed the contract…It corresponded exactly with a vision my wife had been given when she was a very young girl."

Her beloved husband Geo and his partners purchased the land and cleared the hillside and Geo and Maria often visited the farm on Saturdays, praying and taking care of the livestock. In February of 1976, while Maria was in Italy tending to Geo's ailing mother, the Blessed Virgin told Maria to head back for Venezuela and prepare herself for something that was to happen at Betania on March 25, 1976. "You shall see me on the land your purchased," the Virgin announced to her.

The Virgin Mary appears at Betanina- Maria Esperanza becomes a messenger of reconciliation
In obedience to the Virgin Mary, Maria left Rome and arrived in Betania on March 25, which is the feast of the Annunciation. Those gathered there were reciting the Rosary when suddenly Our Blessed Mother appeared to Maria, calling herself "Mary, Reconciler of Peoples and Nations." The Blessed Virgin said to her:
"My heart I gave to you. My heart I give to you. My heart I will always give to you." Maria Esperanza was the only one who was able to see her. However, approximately 80 people who were with her at Betania that day witnessed a cloud that came from the forest, as well a remarkable movement of the sun. It was also around this time that the wounds of the Stigmata began to be more apparent.

Thus began the apparitions at Betania. What has made Betania different than any other apparition site is that while the appearances there were initially given to Maria, many of the subsequent supernatural events that have occurred at apparition site are independent of her, that is, many events have taken place at Betania with or without Maria being there or experiencing them. The most momentous of these occurred on March 25, 1984, when seven successive apparitions were witnessed by a total of 108 people. It was this event that started the local Bishops investigation into the alleged events. Bishop Pio Bello thus began an intensive study into the occurances up to that point, interviewing as many eyewitnesses as possible.

In the days and months that followed the first apparition to Maria, literally hundreds of people saw the Mother of God at Betania. She appeared to some as the Virgin of the Miraculous Medal and to others as the Virgin of Lourdes. They most commonly see her as a type of living marble statue or as a manifestation formed in luminous light, smoke, or clouds. Others have witnessed The sun pulsing as at Fatima, along with a blue butterfly that seemed to flit out from the grotto at the moment Maria began to see the Virgin Mary in a vision. Pilgrims have also reported seeing a "glitter" or sparkly radiance that falls from the sky and strange lights in the heavens. The “heavenly glitter” or "gloss" has reportedly appeared on Maria on several occasions. A giant cross has also appeared above the mountain, and there have been many cures. According to Dr. Arrieta, who studied at Harvard, there have been more than 1,000 physical healings at Betania. He himself was cured of prostate cancer that had metastazied to his spine. Others have been cured of paralysis, liver disorders, and leukemia.

A miracle of the Eucharist
Additionally, holy relics have been miraculously found at Betania such as on December 14, 1985 when Maria Esperanza felt compelled to go to the creek, where she spotted a rock, pulled it from the creekbed, and in turning it over saw that it held a white image of the Virgin. There have also been Eucharistic miracles at Betania as for example on December 8, 1991, when a Host began to bleed as the priest held it. Investigation the matter, Bishop Pio Bello states "I had a scientific investigation conducted, and this was done by a laboratory in Caracas that is totally trustworthy," says the bishop. "They proved definitively that the substance that leaked from the Host was human blood."

The approval of the Church
As part of his ongoing investigation, Bishop Pio Bello personally interviewed several hundred witnesses and took about 550 written statements, and some of the documents contained more than one signature, to the extent that at least a thousand people actually signed their names to the documents certifying their testimonies. During Bishop Pio Bello’s investigations he consulted with the then cardinal prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope), and also Pope John Paul II himself.

After Bishop Pio Bello’s investigations were completed, he waited three years for further reflection and discernment, then he issued a pastoral letter on November 21, 1987 declaring that the Betania apparitions not only conform with Scripture and Church teachings, but also "are authentic, they are supernatural, and they are of a divine source.” Afterwards, thirty-five of Venezuela's thirty-seven bishops and auxiliary bishops accepted his assessment, that is, they did not object to it. Bishop Pio Bello's approval states that Betania is a sacred place for prayer, pilgrimages and worship. It is important to note that Bishop Bello's investigation pertained only to the events at Betania and that he did not comment on the other mystical phenomena related to the life of Maria Esperanza.

Maria Esperanza always traveled directly guided by the Virgin spreading the message of reconciliation and brotherly unity. Thus she visited many places around the world, always spreading the Word of God in Churches and participating in Marian
conferences with the proper ecclesiastical permission. In 1995 she was granted the “Cecilio Acosta” award in Caracas, Venezuela, to acknowledge her valuable contribution as an example and inspiration, and as a promoter of faith and Christian values.

Maria Esperanza died in a New Jersey hospital at the age of 77 on Saturday, August 7, 2004 at 4:36 a.m. after a long bout with a Parkinson's-like ailment. Immediately after her death, numerous individuals present remarked a profuse scent of roses that wafted through the room. The countless souls who knew Maria will always remember her for her extraordinary humility, sincerity, kindness and devotion to Jesus and Mary. She once said: “We must serve and not seek to be served, and we must serve constantly, without feeling tired when we are bothered.” Serving and helping others was certainly one of the main principals by which she lived.

Maria’s cause for canonisation
On January 31, 2010, at 3:00 p.m., Bishop Paul Bootkoski of the diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, officiated at a Mass and ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi marking the opening of the cause for beatification and canonization of Maria Esperanza de Bianchini. On this day (Jan 31st) the Church celebrates the feast of St John Bosco who had appeared to her in a vision informing her of her upcoming marriage. Now that her cause has been opened, Maria is now referred to as a Servant of God. After her heroic virtue has been proven, she will be declared “venerable.” Then, to be beatified, one miracle must be attributed to the her intercession. Finally, a second miracle will be needed for her canonization.

Maria was told by the Virgin that we are living the "hour of decision for humanity." The world will face a "very serious moment" soon. “A great moment is approaching," the Virgin told Esperanza, “A great day of light!" Maria Esperanza does not foresee the end of the world. She sees a coming purification. “The moment has arrived in which mankind must awaken”, says Esperanza, “we must awaken to the love of God. In the coming years a new light from heaven will illuminate hearts, but before it does there will be hardship”. She forsees war, societal problems, and natural disasters. But she also sees a cleansing that will restore humankind.

However, it seems that much of what will happen depends on mankind’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to the events that God disposes. In other words, a portion of what is to come is “conditional” based on humanities reaction to the events that God will put into place. “Difficult times will arrive, but in the end, it will make us better people” says Esperanza. The world will improve. It will solve many of its problems. It will draw closer to Heaven. The Virgin Mary has come to Betania as the “Reconciler of Peoples and Nations.” People and nations reconciled not only among themselves, but more importantly reconciled to God, through the heavenly intercession of Mary. This is the Blessed Virgin Mary’s message through Maria Esperanza---It is a message of hope given through the one who’s name, "Maria Esperanza", literally means “Mary Hope.”

-Servant of God Maria Esperanza de Bianchini, pray for us!

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Primary souces:
-"The Bridge to Heaven -Interviews with Maria Esperanza of Betania" by Michael H. Brown, 2003. Betania Publications.

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"Prayer is the column of light that enlightens man in the midst of the darkness of night." -Servant of God Maria Esperanza de Bianchini

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UPDATE: Maria Esperanza's husband, Geo Bianchini, passed from this life on January 3, 2017. Eternal rest grant unto him, O' Lord....

Saint Charbel (Sharbel) Makhlouf-The Maronite Monk


SAINT CHARBEL – THE MARONITE MONK

By: Jim Dunning
(This article was originally published in "Ireland's Own" magazine. The webmaster would like to thank the author for his kind persmission in reprinting it here.)

Most of us are familiar with European saints, such as St. Bernadette, St. Therese and Padre Pio. Less well-known, but still popular in his own area, is Saint Charbel, a monk from the Lebanon who lived much of his life quietly as a hermit, achieving fame only after his death.

Charbel Makhlouf was born on 8th May, 1828, in the small village of Biqa-Kafra in the high mountains of Northern Lebanon. His parents were poor but religious, and their fifth child was attracted at an early age to prayer and solitude. In spite of the opposition of his family, he left home at the age of twenty-three and entered the Monastery of St. Maroun at a place called Annaya. Ordained priest in 1859, he spent sixteen years there before receiving permission from his reluctant superiors to retire to the nearby hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul.

It had taken over seven years for his wish to be granted. Only exceptional monks were allowed such a privilege. A sign that he was ready to leave the secure environment of the monastery came about in a strange way. Given a request to prepare an urgent report, Charbel sat down at night to work on it. To his dismay he found his lamp had run out of oil. He asked one of the monastery’s lay servants to fill it for him. By way of a joke the servant filled it with water, but was amazed to see that the lamp lit up immediately and continued to burn brightly. The Superior, when advised of this, removed the lamp to check it for himself. To his amazement he found it was indeed full of water. He took this as a sign from above that Charbel was ready to live the severe life of a hermit.

For the remaining twenty-three years of his existence Charbel lived an extemely hard life, one of severe mortification. He wore a hair shirt, slept on a straw mattress with a plank for a pillow, and for his one meal of the day was content to eat the meagre left-overs from the monastery,. He displayed a remarkable devotion to the Eucharist, spending hours in preparation for saying Mass and hours in thanksgiving afterwards.

The Miraculous Light
In 1898 Charbel suffered a massive stroke while saying Mass and died just eight days later on Christmas Eve. He was seventy years old. After three days he was buried in the monastery cemetery, and as was the custom, without the benefit of a coffin. Like many a holy monk before him he would soon have been forgotten were it not for a very strange happening. For the next forty-five nights his tomb was surrounded by a dazzlingly bright light. This was witnessed by an increasingly large number of people, none of whom could provide an explanation. Permission was sought from the ecclesiastical authorities for the monk’s body to be exhumed.

On the night he died the monks from the monastery nearby had rushed to the hermitage to kiss his hands and to be blessed by touching his body. Many spent the whole night kneeling in prayer beside him. The snow was falling heavily and it was extremely cold, which was not surprising since the hermitage was fourteen hundred metres above sea level. Those keeping vigil asked each other : ‘If we’re suffering so much for only one night, how was Father Charbel able to live here for twenty-three years?’
They could see that he must have endured fatigue, hunger, poverty and cold with the courage of a martyr. The local villagers, many of whom had received communion over the years at his hands, recalled his holiness, his continuous prayer and hard work, his meekness and his prudent silence.


Saint Charbel Makhlouf
His Holy Remains Are Found Incorrupt
Eventually permission for his exhumation was given and four months after Charbel’s death a crowd gathered to witness it. To everyone’s surprise his body was found to be perfectly preserved, in spite of the fact that the grave had been flooded by heavy rains, leaving the body floating on a sea of mud. Charbel was lifted out and given fresh clothing before being placed in a wooden coffin in a corner of the monastery’s private chapel. However, it was found necessary to change his clothing twice per week because of a strange liquid exuding continually from the pores of the body. Described as a mixture of perspiration and blood, it just kept coming. Pieces of cloth soaked in this fluid were soon being distributed as relics and credited with effecting cures.

His Incorrupt Remains Are Examined By Physicians
In 1927, more than twenty-eight years after his death, Charbel’s still incorrupt body was examined by two physicians of the French Medical Institute at Beirut, then transferred to another coffin lined with zinc, before being placed in a new tomb inside the wall of an oratory. In the Holy Year 1950, pilgrims to his shrine reported seeing liquid oozing from a corner of the tomb. When the tomb was opened up it was found to be dry and the coffin also, except for a viscous liquid which was seen seeping through a crack at its base. Two months later, after permission had been obtained from the ecclesiastical authorities, the seal on the coffin was broken and the body was examined. Once again it was found to be free of any trace of corruption and the strange fluid continued to issue from its pores.

Editors Note:
Below is some updated info from Joan Carroll Cruz, the author of the book "The Incorruptables":
"...In writing to the shrine in Lebanon I was informed by one of the priests
there that the saint is no longer incorrupt, but that his bones are an
unusual shade of red. The fluid, however, is still produced by the bones.
You might want to check a later edition of my book, "The Incorruptibles",
for this update. Since the saint's beatification, the body was no longer
incorrupt....."


Miraculous Cures and the Road to Canonisation
Since then the shrine has been besieged by thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. In 1950, the monastery started keeping records of miracles attributed to Charbel. In less than two years it accumulated more than twelve hundred such claims.

As early as 1925 the monk’s name had been put forward in a petition to Pope PiusXI to begin canonical proceedings leading to his beatification, but this did not happen until 1965 during the reign of Pope Paul VI. Two cures accepted as being miraculous were necessary and both selected for the purpose had taken place in 1950.

The first of these concerned a nun by the name of Sister Maria Abel Kawary. She had suffered serious intestinal problems for fourteen years and had been given up by doctors as a hopeless case, but after praying all night beside Charbel’s grave she was cured instantaneously. The doctor who examined her at the time recorded her cure as ‘a supernatural happening which is beyond man’s power to explain.’
The second miracle accepted by the Sacred Congregation was the restoration of sight to a blacksmith named Iskandar Oubeid. He had lost the sight in one eye after suffering a blow to it while at work. Eminent eye specialists announced that the damage to the iris was so severe that he would never see through it again. Thirteen years later he took the advice of friends to visit the tomb of Father Charbel. On returning home he had a dream in which a monk appeared, promising to cure him. The next morning he found he could see perfectly out of both eyes. No medical explanation could be found.

The most famous of Charbel’s cures also occurred in the year 1950. It caused a stir not only in Beirut, but in the whole of Lebanon. The recipient was a fifty-year-old seamstress named Mountaha Daher Boulos who had been a hunchback since the age of one after contracting typhoid fever. Her story is rather touching. While visiting the monk’s tomb she stood some distance off and prayed for her two orphan nephews who were in need of help. The only request she made on her own behalf was that she might keep her sight so that she could continue working as a seamstress.

Three days later, after returning home, she woke up in the morning to discover that the hump on her back had disappeared. Her doctor confirmed this, while her parish priest testified to the fact that ‘her silhouette has suddenly become perfectly normal!’

On 9th October, 1977, just twelve years after his beatification, Pope Paul VI presided over the canonization proceedings and announced to the world that Blessed Charbel had joined the ranks of saints in heaven. The saint’s body, however, did not remain incorrupt. By 1965 it was found to have succumbed to the laws of nature, leaving only bones of a reddish colour. Evidently the previous years were sufficient to prove the good monk’s sanctity, while miracles attributed to his intervention have continued to this day.

One of the most recent took place in 1993 when Nohad El Shami, a fifty-five-year-old woman suffering from partial paralysis caused by a severe hemiplegia, reported seeing two monks in a dream. One of these, whom she identified as Charbel, ‘operated’ on her neck, and when she awoke she discovered she was completely healed. The second monk in her dream was believed to be Saint Maroun, a fifth century Syrian Christian martyr who founded the Maronite Order.

As Joan Carroll Cruz relates in her excellent study entitled ‘The Incorruptibles’, pilgrims ‘continue to climb the cedared hills of Lebanon to the shrine of this once perfectly preserved saint.’ She goes on to say : ‘May the veneration now deservedly lavished on the memory of Saint Charbel be renewed in equal measure in favour of all those incorruptibles from past ages who await in the shadows of their reliquaries the day of their glorious resurrection.’
No doubt this humble monk will be surprised to find himself included in their number.

Bibliography:
-‘Saint Charbel’ by Paul Daher
-‘The Incorruptibles’ by Joan Carroll Cruz
-Google
-Wikipedia

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