The Bridge To Heaven (revised and updated), by Michael H. Brown (with Drew Mariani), the book of interviews with famed seer and stigmatist Maria Esperanza -- the extraordinary visionary associated with the Church-approved site of Betania and widely regarded as perhaps the greatest Catholic mystic since St. Padre Pio -- her life, her prophecies, her views on world affairs, her healings, and her spiritual advice. CLICK HERE
SEER'S DEATH PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON DRAMA OF 'APPARITIONS' IN VILLAGE OF GARABANDAL
By Michael H. Brown
It is with sadness and respect that we note the passing of a well-known seer, Mari-Loli Lafleur, originally from the tiny mountain hamlet of San Sebastian de Garabandal in north-central Spain, but for decades now a resident of Boston.
It is the second death of a major visionary in a month, following that of Josyp Terelya in Toronto.
Mari Loli was sixty and one of four girls who claimed apparitions that started with a dazzling angel on June 18, 1961 and were followed -- on a nearly daily basis -- by apparitions, they alleged, of the Blessed Mother, 55 miles southwest of Santander.
Like Medjugorje, there were hundreds of appearances. There was also a similar stony path up to the site where apparitions were seen high up in the Cantabrian Mountains -- one of the most beautiful vistas in Europe, with literally the sensation of standing on the roof of the world. Like Medjugorje -- and apparitions that preceded Garabandal during the 1930s (at Ezkioga) -- there were prophecies that foresaw a great miracle, a warning, and chastisements for sins of the world.
One difference: where Garabandal saw a central, earth-stopping-like "warning," at Medjugorje the seers have spoken about a series of at least three events that will come to warn the world.
I visited Garabandal in 1991 and like so many found it to be an especially intriguing apparition. I have never seen a landscape more breathtaking. It is rather like a Spanish version of LaSalette, arrived at from the south on harrowing roads that pass sheer contrasting ramparts as majestic and colorful as anything in the Rockies. They claimed that Mary appeared with a blue mantle and white robe, her hair nut-brown, parted at the center, perhaps 2,000 times.
I did not know Mari Loli well. I spoke to her by phone just a couple of times. She was obviously a very sincere, devout woman. From what I understand, she suffered from the autoimmune disease, lupus. It was Mari Loli who was given special prophetic glimpses, it is alleged, and who once held the Blessed Mother's crown and encountered the chalice of Jesus. We present it for your considered determination.
"Did you ever count how many times you saw the Virgin Mary?" I asked her back in 1991.
"No, I didn't," said Mari Loli (maiden named Mazon). "For one year it was almost every day, at least for one year, and sometimes more than one time."
"Were there rays of light coming from the Virgin?"
"It was very bright. It was night but it seemed like day, because everything was very bright."
"Did you ever see her feet?"
"And her dress, was it always white?"
"Yeah, and a blue mantle."
"Did it ever look different?"
"She came one time and she was dressed in brown."
"Her face. Did it look like anyone you've seen in life, or on TV, or in the movies? Was she beautiful like that or how?"
"No. I don't think like anybody. It's so hard for me to explain because it's not clear in my mind."
"Do you remember seeing a chalice with blood dripping in it?"
"And the crown. When she gave you her crown to hold: did it have jewels?"
"It was like the stars, like twelve stars."
"And holding Jesus was the same thing?"
"Did he have any particular color of hair?"
"Not very dark, but a little tan."
"And the color of His eyes?"
"Brown. Brown eyes."
"I read that sometimes when you four were seeing the Virgin, it looked like you were frightened or sad because sad things were being said. Can you tell me any of the sad things that were said?" I asked.
"Well, about the punishments.," said Mari Loli. "I cannot really remember exactly. I just remember it was about punishment -- that if the world did not change there would be a very big punishment."
"Do you think the chastisement is near?" I asked in the early 1990s.
"I feel God has to do something for things to change. It doesn't look like people are turning to God."
"Are you surprised it's taken so long for anything to happen?" I asked. "Did you think one of the warnings or the chastisement would happen before now?"
"Well, with the warning I know what year it's supposed to happen," she told me. "About chastisement I -- I was so young."
Mari Loli was the only seer, it was said, who knew the year (if not the exact time and date) of the reputed "warning."
"Loli, I know you can't reveal anything that's secret, but you said you knew the year of the warning. That time has not passed yet?"
"No," she said. She told me she wasn't afraid of the events in her secrets (the others also had secrets), but was afraid of the evil that we had allowed to grow in the world.
That's what frightened this seer -- this woman who now sees with the eyes of eternity (and for whom we ask prayer).
Did she have doubts?
Don't we all. "Looking back now, do you have any doubt whatsoever that you saw the Virgin Mary?"
"Well, I don't remember very clearly and it seems like it happened to somebody else sometimes. It's so many years ago."
Indeed, at that point it had been three decades!
It was always tossed up in controversy. I'll acknowledge that up front. When, in 1996, I formally asked Bishop Msgr. Jose Vilaplaua of Santander, who had jurisdiction, the Church stance on the apparitions, he responded with a statement saying that the supernatural nature of the events had not been demonstrated, as witnessed by statements from the bishops from 1960 to 1977 and then his own confirmation that such supernaturality was not proven. That statement, issued on October 11, 1996, also said that the Vatican had advised him to take this stance and had decided not to remove the authority from the local bishop to rule on the matter (as occurred at Medjugorje). Thus, the Bishop of Santander has full jurisdiction. That particular statement is on file now at the Marian Library at the University of Dayton.
Recent declarations from the diocese have seemed to soften the stance. The site has not been condemned. Priests are allowed to celebrate Mass there if the apparitions are not mentioned. We have sought several times to elicit the latest diocesan view, but our requests for current information have not been answered. That we find regrettable (since we need Church guidance). In large part, it is the Church's position that has restrained our coverage.
On March 19, 1964, it is said, the Blessed Mother told another visionary named Conchita that a Long Island man and Garabandal devotee named Joey Lomangino would recover his eyesight on the day of a great "miracle" which will be worked by God at the site.
"You're still not sure of it?"
"It's hard for me to explain," said this woman who, we should remember, encountered the experiences as a teenager -- actually, starting at age 12. "I don't think too often about it and my life is not based on what happened to me. I just try to lead a good Christian life but without thinking about what happened."
It is a lesson for us all.
The "miracle," it was claimed, would occur within a year of the "warning" on a Thursday evening at 8:30 p.m. between the eighth and 16th of April. It would coincide with an important event of the Church and take place on the feast day of a martyr of the Eucharist.
At Medjugorje, the secrets have been described in far more general terms, with not a single warning but a series of "warnings" that allegedly will be events that occur in the world.
Other prophecies have referred to a similar event as an "illumination of conscience."
"Last question," I had asked. "If I were sixty years old, would I live long enough to see this 'warning'?"
Loli was too smart for that tactic. "That's a trick questions!" she said, laughing.
"Well, you're going to live to see the warning, right?"
"Well, I hope so," she replied, laughing.
"So life is normal for you? You don't spend all day thinking about this?"
"No. I did hear about other things, and from people who call. But I don't have a lot of time to read."
"If you had one message to give to America," I concluded, "what would it be?"
"Go back to God and base your life on God," she had intoned so wisely.
And so we take off our hats in salute.
What are we to think of Garabandal? It is as we so often say: for your discernment. Although the supernaturality was not affirmed, the messages, as far as we know, have never been condemned, nor have the seers.
In the 1930s, similar prophecies occurred in a village called Ezkioga and spread to dozens of other places. One of the Ezkioga seers was seen in Garabandal before those apparitions. There is a book written about it called The Visionaries (University of Berkeley Press). Ezkioga did not fare as well and was formally condemned. The seers were threatened with excommunication.
And so one glimpses the topsy-turvy world of mysticism!
What we find no doubt about is the sincerity of Mari Loli. What a good person. What a faithful person -- to the end.
She saw something. She experienced something. And now she understands it through eyes that see in a way that is everlasting.
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