The vigil before one of the biggest feasts in Venezuela - the Feast of Our Lady of Zaragoza - was beautiful but crowded. And we do mean crowded! People
began arriving around 10 am on October 11 and the traffic just increased
steadily after that. Our group arrived shortly after 5 pm and already the
entire area was full. Inching our way, and this editor means that in the
literal sense, our group was able to find a spot under a banana tree on the
far right edge of the property against a cyclone fence and about 200 feet
from the open air chapel. The days are hot in the sun, but if you can
manage to find a shady spot, the weather is quite comfortable. The
evenings cool somewhat but still it was a balmy 70 degrees all night.
There was plenty of activity throughout the evening with music and prayer
and fellowship mostly in Spanish since the vast majority of people there
were Venezuelans and October 12 was not only a feast day but also a
national holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus. We feel this
mushroomed the turnout more than anticipated. There were so many lights
erected on the property that it almost seemed like daylight and it brought
to mind a "religious Woodstock."
This light was dearly missed when, at approximately 11:15 all the lights
went out…all that is except the lights along the main road where the gypsy
souvenir stands were lined up for blocks. It reminded one of the passage
in John 11:10 of how the man who walks in the dark stumbles. People were
definitely stumbling in the pitch blackness. When the lights went out in
Betania, many in the crowd sensed it was Our Lady's doing and that she was
going to appear. It was learned the next day that someone had purposely
cut the wires. Persecution has no barriers.
A calm hysteria permeated the massive throng huddled in the dark and
numerous flashlight beams danced on the trees above the grotto. Awes and
oohs emanated from many but it was not Our Lady, only the lights generated
by the Energizer bunny's batteries! There are always some pranksters in
every crowd and they persisted in confusing the crowd with "fake sightings"
by stubbornly aiming their flashlights.
The schedule had called for a Mass every hour alternated by the Rosary.
Unfortunately because of the power outage Mass was unable to be said, but
extra Rosaries were recited, many hymns sung in Spanish, Latin and English,
and some even caught a few winks in the early morning hours of October
12th. As the sun rose slowly in the east, Masses resumed culminating with
the noon Mass officiated by Fathe Otty Aristazabel, visionary Maria
Esperanza de Bianchini's spiritual director and the priest to whom was bestowed
the Eucharistic Miracle detailed two installments ago on these pages.
Before the noon Mass, Maria came forth and
spoke to the huge throng via loudspeaker. The translation was muffled but
we knew Our Lady had appeared to her and we felt her presence though very
few really saw her. Yet, no one was really disappointed for Our Lady
touched each and every person in his or her own special way that only each
individual could describe. It occurred to this editor what Maria had
relayed on August 15 that Our Lady had told her that on October 12, "I
would physically come to Betania." We wondered aloud if through the night
and during the day if we might have brushed up against the Blessed Mother
in the elbow-to-elbow crowd. It's a thought since it has happened before.
Known as the "Land of Grace", as dubbed by Christopher Columbus, there is
no doubt as to the abundant graces received from our pilgrimage to this
holy place which reminds one so much of Lourdes because of the healing
waters, the grotto and Our Lady's references to her apparitions there.
This editor cannot testify to seeing any supernatural phenomena other than
the spinning of the sun, but we did receive the greatest sense of peace and
a magnetic draw toward Mary's Divine Son Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. It was the same
sensation this author felt at Lanciano.
In the next installment we will delve into the meaning of Betania's Message of Unity and Reconciliation.