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.
Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.
It never was able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening the way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved it's freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If we were allowed to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. And we could never fly.
The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.
When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you."
What a shock! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built none too well.
So it is with us. We build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than the best. At important points we do not give the job our best effort. Then with a shock we look at the situation we have created and find that we are now living in the house we have built. If we had realized, we would have done it differently.
Think of yourself as the carpenter. Think about your house. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall. Build wisely. It is the only life you will ever build. Even if you live it for only one day more, that day deserves to be lived graciously and with dignity. The plaque on the wall says, "Life is a do-it-yourself project."
Have I not shown you the path back to Him, Who is the Way, the Truth, the Life? Therefore, I solemnly tell you that far too many of my children are cold; many more who once experienced and embraced their conversion of heart have grown lukewarm. They speak of my messages, but they do not put them into practice.
I beseech all of my little ones to closely examine your hearts by a thorough examination of conscience. In this way God shall assist you in your weakness and you shall once again grow fervent.
Do not lose heart. Be vigilant. My time among you rapidly comes to an end. You must be strong, anchored in the Cross of my Divine Son and fed by Him in His Holy Sacrament of Love.
The Year of Tears unfolds and my heavenly tears mingle with all who suffer for my Divine Son. Yet it is suffering that allows Mercy to descend. Pray, make sacrifice and abandon your lives to God.
I love and bless you. Thank you for responding to my Call!
I desire all of my little ones to know that these are truly times of Great Sorrow, the depth of which my faithful ones already feel in their hearts. Yet I search for all of my children and weep that their hearts might yet be converted.
O! My little ones, God is faithful to all who call upon Him in sincerity from their hearts. But you utter words of prayer in which you seek to direct God's actions according to your desires, not His. And in this manner you often feel lost, abandoned. O! All of my little ones must no longer seek only their will. Only when the human will conforms totally to the Divine Will shall God hear and answer your pleas.
Therefore, I solemnly tell you to prepare daily to be strong through your dedication and consecration to my Divine Son's Sacred Heart and my Immaculate Heart. I solemnly tell you that the face of evil is stamped upon every nation, and your world stands on the brink of devastating war.
Please heed my words. Pray! Pray from your hearts and seek and accept every opportunity to make sacrifice. Only in this way shall my Immaculate Heart triumph and the Justice of God shall come swiftly and purify all of creation.
The time has come. The return of my Divine Son has already dawned! Be awake and watch, for all I have revealed since LaSalette until this moment shall be fulfilled.
Pray! Pray! Pray! You must turn back to God now before the Justice comes. I love and bless you. Thank you for responding to my Call!
Pope Innocent III, the same pontiff who encouraged Saint Francis of Assisi with his new Order, excommunicated the pesky German Emperor Otto IV for his interference with ecclesiastical matters.
Pope Leo XIII ushers his 51st encyclical Providentissimus Deus on studying and discerning Sacred Scripture.
Death of Saint Giuseppe Moscati, a holy physician from Naples who treated the poor at no charge all his life, proclaiming "How can I charge my patients for a gift that Our Lord has given to me free?" If only more doctors and other professions could see it that way! He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987.