DAILY CATHOLIC    WEDNESDAY     November 18, 1998     vol. 9, no. 226


To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE & SECTION TWO
          In the lush South American country of Venezuela that the Blessed Virgin Mary calls her "land of grace," which is bordered by the Carribean Sea to the north, the Andes Mountains to the southwest and the Amazon Jungle in the south, Our Lady has been appearing for centuries. And ever since 1976, she has been coming to a tiny, remote, tropical farm in Betania, Venezuela to establish a special Refuge for all her children as the New Ark of Salvation under the special title "Mary, Virgin and Mother of Reconciliation for all people and nations." She calls Betania the "New Lourdes" offering the same healing waters to all who will take refuge in her Immaculate Heart. God has chosen Maria Esperanza de Bianchini as His special visionary with many mystical graces to convey His Mother's messages to all His children as she beckons us all to become her "Ambassadors of Reconciliation" while effecting a very special Eucharistic Miracle intricately linked with Betania.

          No matter the age, Our Lady has been imparting the same message: "Pray! Pray! Pray!" It is only through constant prayer, taken as a bouquet in loving, motherly intercession before the Throne of God, that the hearts of mankind will eventually be softened and all her little ones brought into accord with the Will of God. This continuing in-depth series on the grace-filled mystical phenomena of Our Lady's appearances through the ages and the meaning of her messages will open eyes and hearts because she is the mother of us all and her words of wisdom and warnings must be taken seriously...very seriously!

The New Lourdes: Betania - Refuge of Reconciliation
part seven

The Road to Betania - a needed Refuge

          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 area.

          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.

November 18, 1998       volume 9, no. 226


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