Because of the limited accommodations in or near Betania, the closest
lodging is really in Caracas, a city of over five million people. There is
a sharp contrast to the affluence of this modern metropolis, which has
gained its riches through oil, with the poor barrios which blanket the
hills overlooking the city on one side and the Caribbean to the north.
Though Venezuela is 96% Catholic, many are cultural Catholics rather than
committed Catholics. It is no doubt why Our Lady has appeared for the
tenth time in this country founded by Christopher Columbus in 1498 and
named "Little Venice" because of the thatched huts on stilts on Lake
Maracaibo. Today Venezuelans, much like the rest of the world, have
forgotten God. Thus, He has sent His Own Mother to revive their faith
through Reconciliation. It is a verification of other recently reported
apparitions and messages throughout the world and especially in the United
States where secular interests so overshadow the spiritual. Because of the
sinful state of the world, God, in His Infinite Mercy, is calling us all
back into His loving embrace before it is too late. It is only left for us
to believe and respond.
Betania's natural beauty lies in the lush, tropical setting. But the
supernatural beauty which God has brought to this place through the
apparitions of His Mother and the Eucharistic Miracle touch both heart,
soul and body in ways known only to God.
There is a peace in Betania that is undeniable, despite the heat,
humidity, or crowds of people who gather, particularly on feast days when
Our Lady appears to Maria Esperanza de Bianchini, and often to others who
have come to pay homage to the Mother of God. This peace is not a human
peace, but a supernatural peace, as if God put His hand on your shoulder
and said "It's okay, I'm here. My Mother is here. Let Me do everything.
You be nothing, because that's the way I want it!"
With the majestic setting of the countryside, the pilgrim begins to
understand the awesomeness of God and the littleness of mankind, and the
insignificance of any action we might undertake, if it is not an action
that is directed and under the control of Almighty God. Betania is a place
to surrender to God our all, and to seek nothing but His Will in our life,
whatever it may be. Like Medjugorje, there are signs and supernatural
phenomena that are given to many. But the real significance of Our Lady's
visits to this remote place is her continual plea for reconciliation.
Most Americans can reach Betania by taking a three hour flight from Miami,
the closest American airport to the port city of Caracas. There the
majestic beauty of the towering green mountains surrounding the city
strikes one. Heading south out of Caracas a four lane road winds into the
mountains through tunnels and vantage points offering a magnificent vista
of the lush, verdant mountainous and tropical landscape. A well-traveled
toll road) one Bolivar - equivalent to one penny) leads to the Cua turnoff
where the road narrows through an agricultural valley to the small town of
Cua. Approximately six miles past Cua on the way to San Casimiro (St.
Casimir in the province of Bolivar) one senses a safari-like journey
driving through a densely jungle-like plethora of banana trees, bamboo
trees and other foliage native to the area as the Tarma River snakes 100
feet or so near the ride of the road. There are a few older and somewhat
primitive motels near Betania and inevitably, as one approaches the
entrance to Maria's farm on the left, you'll spot some of the makeshift
"gypsy" souvenir stands dotting the roadside.
A word of caution here - just as pilgrims are encouraged to patronize the
Franciscan gift shop in Medjugorje rather than the other "gypsy" shops, so
also in Betania we encourage you to purchase rosaries, statues, holy cards,
medals and the plastic Holy Water bottles molded in the shape of Our Lady
of the Grotto from the two or three stands inside the property. The main
reason for this is that proceeds go toward building the new church on the
land and for improvements.
Though this apparition site has been on-going for five years longer than
Medjugorje, facilities are not as modern in Betania as in Bosnia. Although
there are multiple restrooms under one roof, the unfortunate fact is that
they are located near the entrance - far away from the Grotto. There is no
first-aid station or food facilities on the property and very few places to
sit or recline, especially throughout the all-night vigil. It is strongly
recommended that if you go to Betania for the night or for an extended
stay, to bring a small folding stool along, as well as a light sleeping bag
and canteen of bottled water. The latter is important because padding is
paramount when staking claim for the night on the rock gravel and water is
always a necessity. The folding chairs or stools can also be used at Mass
for there are only enough pews for approximately 400 people. When we were
there for the vigil and feast day of Our Lady of Pilar of Zaragoza on
October 11 and 12, estimates were pegged at between 30,000 t0 50,000 people
in a very small land mass.
To make matters more critical, there is only one entrance to the area over
two narrow, but sturdy steel foot bridges spanning the Tarma River which
flows beneath and where native children frolic in the stream.
But these inconveniences pale in comparison to the fantastic sense of
peace and tranquillity that touch you once you cross over the bridge. To
the right and near the river is a spacious, but modest hacienda, which is
Maria and Geo's home when they are in Betania. Because of the crush of
people, it is surrounded by a tall cyclone fence and sits below the
elevated area leading to the grotto and chapel.
Once across the bridge you make your way along the sidewalk past the wall
of engraved testimonies to the cooling and healing waters which cascade
down a rocky slope on the left side of the grotto, much like the spring at
Lourdes. Because of the increased traffic, a fence has been erected twenty
feet from the grotto protecting the area and the pool of water where the
rapids fall into an ample brook. To ease the confusion they have recently
built over a dozen basins along the far wall leading toward the water and
grotto where one can push the nozzle to fill their containers with the
healing waters that have been likened to Lourdes.
Though pilgrims have been cautioned about not drinking the water in
foreign countries, we have been assured this spring water is perfectly safe
to drink and, in fact, you are encouraged to drink it for healing purposes.
While we were there the water flowed abundantly and many of the native
Venezuelans were submerging their entire heads in the water as well as
mothers dunking their children under the faucets.
To the right, in front of the grotto pilgrims bring multi-colored flowers
to place before the Virgin and in front of that is an area for votive
candles of all sizes. Unfortunately, as has happened in Medjugorje, there
will soon have to be restrictions placed since the wax build-up is marring
The grotto is wreathed with artificial but realistic looking flowers and
in the center stands the beautiful white statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. It
struck this editor of the similarity of this statue and the white statue of
Our Lady of Medjugorje outside St. James. Both are beckoning us toward the
altar where her Divine Son resides.
In Betania, the open air chapel is set just to the right of the grotto,
nestled in the corner and tucked beneath the tall verdant cliffs on the
right. Ionic pillars have been added to a sturdy roof and the foundation
is covered with a well-polished white marble floor. The altar is raised
with the same marble floor and protected by an elevated four foot railing
surrounding the entire sanctuary with a gate in the center in front of the
altar and behind the altar on the right. At the foot of the altar, also
marble, there are numerous plants and more artificial flowers with tall
votive candles under glass on the altar. To the right of the altar in
front is a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Fatima encased in a four foot
high glass casing with a conventional slanted roof forming a triangle.
The best vantage point is not necessarily from the wooden pews in the
center, for people stand in front of them right up to the altar railing
thus blocking the view of the sanctuary. To us the best place to take in
the Mass was from the steep rock ledges built step-like into the cliff
immediately to the right of the altar for from there we could not only see
all the priests on the altar and at the lectern but also in the background
the beautiful grotto and cascading water. When we were there on the feast
of Our Lady of the Rosary, they were installing new lights on each pillar
for the vigil.
In the next installment we will delve into the message of Betania and why we should
watch and pray.