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!
-"The Bridge to Heaven -Interviews with Maria Esperanza of Betania" by Michael H. Brown, 2003. Betania Publications.
"Prayer is the column of light that enlightens man in the midst of the darkness of night." -Servant of God Maria Esperanza de Bianchini
UPDATE: Maria Esperanza's husband, Geo Bianchini, passed from this life on January 3, 2016. Eternal rest grant unto him, O' Lord....