garabandal: believe the miracles
June 18th is the sixtieth anniversary of the first vision in Garabandal. The events were controversial from the start, largely because of the negative evaluation made by the local diocese. It has since become evident that the evaluation was neither methodical nor impartial (more on this later), but the image of the site has remained tarnished to this day as a result. The ironic thing is that Garabandal has all the hallmarks of a genuine heavenly visitation: clearly miraculous events, a Gospel message of repentance, and visionaries who have lived upright lives in keeping with the message.
The “delay” in the fulfilment of prophecies
Though the events still await official Church approval, they were viewed positively by four people who have since been canonised: Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. It goes without saying that doubters also abound. One of the most frequent motives for suspicion concerns the prophecies associated with Garabandal. These foretell a Warning, a Miracle and a possible Chastisement. Some people believe that the fulfilment of these prophecies is at hand, given that Conchita is now over seventy and she has been entrusted with revealing the date of the Miracle eight days in advance. In addition, other conditions that were to immediately precede the Warning now appear to have been met as a result of the pandemic. These include a period of tribulation in which churches would be widely closed with reduced access to the sacraments. The truth is, however, that for many decades already people have been conjecturing possible dates for these events. When the proposed dates come and go without a whimper, scepticism tends to grow. It is fair to say that many people who believed in Garabandal in the 1970s and 80s would never have thought that the world would still be waiting for the Warning in 2021.
Though the “delay” in fulfilment has led to many doubts, it would be unwise to focus on this delay and to lose sight of the power of the original events. The Lord gives us supernatural signs for a reason. St John’s Gospel emphasizes that the signs performed by Jesus were all directed towards manifesting his divinity. We are blessed if we believe without seeing wonders, but Jesus also tells us that it is ok to believe on the basis of miracles alone: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (John 14,11). In the case of Garabandal, it seems plausible that the Lord provided a super-abundance of miracles in order to counteract the scepticism that would arise because of the long delay in the fulfilment of the prophecies. But are we justified in thinking that the events were genuinely supernatural in the first place?
Clear evidence of the supernatural
Fatima has a unique place in the history of heavenly apparitions in that the miracle of October 1917 was seen by many thousands of people. Apart from this extraordinary event, if someone were to ask you which apparition had the most compelling body of supernatural evidence, which site would you say? Lourdes? Guadalupe? The answer, of course, is Garabandal, and by some distance. For a period of four years and during the course of thousands of apparitions, a catalogue of remarkable events was witnessed by doctors, scientists and ordinary faithful – events that absolutely defy a natural explanation. These included gravity-defying ecstatic marches, levitations, insensitivity to pain and bright light, locutions, healings, and supernatural knowledge of the visionaries.
Knowledge from a heavenly source
The most common example of supernatural knowledge involved the ownership of religious objects given to the girls to be kissed by the vision. There is not a single recorded case where they returned an object to the wrong person. Various efforts were made to try to “trick” the girls. On one occasion, a medal was given by its owner to three intermediate persons before eventually being passed to one of the visionaries. After offering the medal to Our Lady, the visionary walked into the crowd and returned it to its correct owner. In another instance, a lady gave two wedding rings to one of the girls. After the blessing, the girl went back to the lady and placed her ring on the correct finger. Then, without hesitation, she went into the midst of the crowd, directly to the husband of the lady, and restored his ring to him. The vast number of documented cases of this kind of privileged knowledge indicates beyond reasonable doubt that the behaviour of the girls cannot be explained in terms of hallucinations, mental illness or an elaborate scam.
In 1965, Francisco Sanchez-Ventura y Pascual, a highly respected attorney, compiled a book with a long catalogue of eye-witness accounts. These include reports from paediatricians, neuropsychiatrists, and other medical professionals confirming that the trances couldn’t be explained by any pathological or physiological means. In addition, it was noted that the parapsychological phenomena accompanying the trances (telepathy, levitation, clairvoyance) were a “veritable scientific miracle” (joint report of Dr Alejandro Gasca Ruiz and Dr Ortiz Gonzalez).
Clear absence of the demoniac
If the presence of the supernatural in the events of Garabandal cannot be denied, then what was present was either heavenly or demonic, since in these matters there is no middle ground. Is it at least possible that the visions were of demonic origin, as occasionally alleged? To address questions of this sort, the strategy of the Church has been threefold in the case of other apparitions. Firstly, the events around the alleged visions are examined for consistency. Secondly, the message of the purported vision is studied theologically. Thirdly, the characters and behaviour of the visionaries are evaluated. On all three counts, the events of Garabandal preclude the presence of the demonic.
Regard for the sacrament of matrimony
There is a wealth of documentation to show that the replies of the girls to questioning, their attitudes towards the clergy, the blessed sacrament and their parents, all show an appropriateness, reserve and harmony with Church teaching that is quite striking. For example, rosary beads and medals were held up during every apparition to be kissed by Our Lady, whereas the girls would not accept ornamental rings and other jewellery. Wedding rings, however, were accepted. These rings represent the relationship of fidelity between husband and wife. As the first chapter of Genesis makes clear, the covenant of marriage is a central element in God’s plan for humanity. It is entirely appropriate that Our Lady would make a distinction between wedding rings and other jewellery! Given that Satan’s primary mission is the destruction of the Christian family, it seems implausible that an apparition of demoniac origin would make such a distinction.
Regard for the Eucharist and the Rosary
Similarly, the girls’ attitude towards the Eucharist is very revealing. Some of the first ecstasies took place in the parish church. Eyewitnesses recount that the girls would not turn their backs on the tabernacle during their trances, even walking backways to exit the church. When the diocesan authorities ordered that the ecstasies not take place inside the church, the girls complied immediately. Such deference towards the Blessed Sacrament and legitimate authority is a hallmark of what genuinely emanates from heaven. In addition, onlookers mentioned that the girls would recite the prayers “rather quickly” while not in ecstasy. When Our Lady was present, however, their recitation would become slower and more fervent. The manner in which they would make the sign of the cross in the presence of Our Lady was markedly elegant and devout. On occasion, the girls sang the rosary while in ecstasy. Again, witnesses describe the otherworldly grace and celestial sweetness of this sung form of the rosary.
In short, the sheer wealth of harmonious details and their overall consistency with the Catholic faith make it hardly credible that such behaviour might be associated with the presence of dark forces. The reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and the rosary, the obedience to legitimate authority, the devout manner in which they made the sign of the cross, seem sufficient in themselves to rule out the presence of the demonic.
The witness of a Christian life
Regarding the behaviour of the visionaries, it must be said that this is not decisive for the truth of the visions, since a visionary retains their capacity for free-will and may live as they please after the apparition is over. The 1846 apparitions at La Salette were approved by the Church. One of the visionaries, Maximin Giraud, lived an unsettled life afterwards. Thus, the subsequent life of the visionary is not a sure indicator of authenticity. However, it is natural that the credibility of a vision is linked to the credibility of the person at the centre of the event. Did St Bernadette really see Our Lady at Lourdes? Her life of heroic sanctity confirms the reliability of her testimony. In the case of Garabandal, the girls claimed to live an intimate mother-daughter relationship with Our Lady for many months. If the relationship was genuine, then surely we should see the fruits in the girls’ lives? And, indeed, that seems to be the case. Raising their families in the faith with discretion, their refusal to exploit fame and publicity is a fitting rejoinder to those who accused them of inventing the apparitions to gain attention.
Deficient evaluation by diocesan authorities
Last year saw the release of an excellent documentary, Garabandal, Unstoppable Waterfall. This includes the testimony of Fr. José Luis Saavedra, whose doctoral thesis at the University of Navarra is the first ever to deal with Garabandal. Fr. José Luis gives overwhelming evidence to show that the original diocesan investigation was not carried out systematically and with fairness. The commission did not undertake their study with the intention of uncovering the truth, but with a vested interest to discredit the apparitions. Ed Kelly has spent a lifetime promoting the message of Garabandal and he too has frequently drawn attention to the shockingly deficient response of the diocese of Santander to the apparitions. This is comprehensively summarized in the appendices of his book. Incredibly, Dr Luis Morales Noriega, the central figure on the diocesan commission, did a complete U-turn in 1983 when he announced to a university conference that the Virgin Mary had truly appeared in Garabandal. The disavowal by Dr. Morales was complete. He asked the Virgin of Garabandal “that the years that I still have life pass in her shadow, and that she welcomes me later in her womb”. After the talk, he revealed that the “Marian enthusiasm” exhibited by Pope John Paul II when he visited Spain had prompted him to re-evaluate what he had experienced.
The message of Garabandal
The purpose of the remarkable supernatural occurrences of Garabandal was to call the world to radical repentance, prayerful meditation on the passion of Christ, and devotion to the Eucharist. The October 1961 message delivered by the girls to the world was a condensed form of the Gospel, theologically flawless, scrawled on a grubby scrap of paper and poignantly signed by all four children with their ages written beside their names. Why did such extraordinary prodigies accompany the message of Garabandal? In order to provoke extraordinary attention to the message! As is clear from the Gospel of St John, it is not the great signs that matter, but what the great signs are pointing to. How ironic it is that when the girls delivered their message in October 1961, there was general grumbling from the public. People had expected some “novel” communication from heaven; the last thing they expected was the message of the Gospel!
It is fair to say that Garabandal has often been mistreated in the intervening sixty years. A lot of ink has been spilt in the effort to work out the date of the Miracle, but has comparable attention been given to the messages? Some prominent Garabandalists have impressive knowledge of the prophecies, but they foment opposition to Pope Francis. Granted, these people are often well-meaning, but the visionaries (who have always shown deference to Church authority) must be dismayed by such attitudes. The makers of Garabandal, Unstoppable Waterfall lead by example at the beginning of their documentary, which, they say, is prompted “by an intense love for the Pope and the Catholic Church. This love for the truth and for the Church is what inspired us to undertake this project”.