Among Marian apparitions, Garabandal is distinguished by the ardor of the embrace of the Mother of God. It was customary for Our Lady of Mount Carmel to kiss the four young girls and to be kissed in return.
Our Lady reverently venerated the sacramental objects offered to her by the visionaries on behalf of others; rosaries, holy medals, missals, and wedding rings. The girls in ecstasy had the uncanny ability to return the appropriate object directly to the owner not knowing beforehand who had presented which object. The final apparition on November 13, 1965 was expressly to kiss the accumulated articles to which Our Lady attached a solemn promise – for those who use these objects with faith, Jesus will perform prodigies.
It is important to recall at the time of the Spanish Civil War, the Asturias, the region in which Garabandal is located, was a stronghold for the advance of Communism in Spain. The faithful of this region and the other adjacent northern areas were forbidden by law to own rosaries, medals and other symbols of Christianity. These objects, which had been passed down through the centuries in devout families, were hidden in those troubled times. Bearers who displayed religious items in public were ridiculed and assaulted or harassed by the authorities.
For the apparitions, small tables were set out to accommodate these objects. A makeup compact was once laid down on one of the tables. This provoked an outcry against what seemed like a frivolous act, yet the small gold case remained in place. During the next visitation, Our Lady sited the compact and rejoiced, “This belongs to my Son.” Later it was revealed that the vessel had secretly conveyed consecrated hosts to those in hiding during the Civil War.
The apparition of August 6, 1962 is by contrast the only known occurrence of the Archangel Saint Michael embracing a physical object.
And so on this day, fifty years ago, in San Sebastian de Garabandal, three Hospitaller Brothers of Saint John of God climbed the ox cart path that connected the remote mountain village to the outside world, arriving unnoticed in the sweltering midday heat. They did not know it, but they had come to receive a mysterious honor from the Prince of the Holy Angels.
A sketch of the Saint
Born in Portugal in 1495, Joao Cidade Duarte abandoned his family as a small boy. He never returned. He tramped across Europe in violence and plunder as a thieving quartermaster in the imperial infantry. His service concluded, he returned to Iberia a forty year old prodigal with much to atone for.
On the feast of Saint Sebastian, John went to hear a sermon by Saint John of Avila. He was so devastated with loathing for his sins that he turned on himself in fury and for a time sought a life of humiliation for Christ. He was cast into an asylum and cruelly beaten for days. It was John of Avila who came to absolve and release the man who would become John of God.
Raised to holiness, John’s heart turned with compassion to his fellow incarcerates in the asylum. With a soldier’s knowledge of organization and field medicine, he began to shepherd the homeless, the abandoned, and the afflicted of Granada sheltering them and treating their wounds.
He supported orphans, students, harlots, and the unemployed with his own labor, encumbering himself with their pecuniary debts, often suffering accusations and slandered by those he tried to help.
After thirteen years in this way, he died a heroic and saintly death contracting pneumonia while attempting to rescue a drowning companion. He was found in death, kneeling before the crucifix, his face pressed to the wounded feet of Christ.
Saint John of God left the world a small band of valiant hearts. The legends of the Order relate that often on the brink of collapse John of God was revived by the angels. Saint Raphael accompanied him on his rounds, healing and imparting the peace of God to the chaos. To this day the image of the Angelic Physician clothed in the habit of San Juan de Dios can be found in these hospitals.
Murillo, on his canvas in the Prado, depicts Saint John of God as frail, struggling under the weight of the invalid he is carrying, menaced by the encircling dark. The saint is accompanied by a powerful archangel who strengthens him, illuminating his face and his path.
Passing before the humble stone church of San Sebastian, the three religious came upon the young visionaries who told them, without affectation, of the wonders that were happening in the village and of the importance of the October 18 Message. The brothers rested under the nine pines of the apparition eating lunch and enjoying the discussion. Conchita accompanied them but she did not eat. She told them Mass had not been offered in the village that day and the Angel would bring her Holy Communion. Until he arrived she would remain fasting.
The afternoon passed swiftly. At a natural pause in the conversation, Conchita moved discretely away from the group and fell to her knees, head tilted back in ecstasy. As Brother Juan Bosco recorded in his notes,
“Still kneeling and in the same posture, the girl made the Sign of the Cross very slowly and devoutly. She said words in a low voice and gently struck her chest three times. She was praying in ecstasy. As the prayer ended, she opened her mouth, put out her tongue as in receiving Communion, withdrew her tongue and closed her mouth slowly. Two of us heard the slight noise of her swallowing something. She held this position and we heard her low voice, audible, but we could not hear it to sufficiently understand the words.”
Then the ecstasy took a decidedly different turn.
“Then the girl took his (Brother Luis) Scapular in her hands. She stood up, raised the Scapular in a very solemn way as though presenting it to someone. She lowered the Scapular and again dropped abruptly to her knees.”
Returning the Scapular to Brother Luis, Conchita repeated this gesture for the Scapulars of Brother Juan and Brother Miguel offering each one up reverently. With a concluding Sign of the Cross, the ecstasy ended and Conchita returned to normal with a shy smile.
“Have you had Communion?”
“Why did you take our Scapulars and raise them up?”
“The Angel asked me to do it, to kiss them.”
“Have you spoken to the Angel?”
“What did he say to you?”
“The Angel knew you. He told me that Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin are happy with you.”
To this exterior sign was added an interior grace for Brother Juan.
“The impression was very great. Particularly, I was stunned and with much interior sentiment of having sinned so many times, and because of this I implored mercy. I have never felt in my life such as strong feeling of the supernatural. Afterwards, as the years passed…this experience has always been present in me. I have great confidence in the love of the Virgin and an accentuated fervor for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe the essence of the grace given to us is our own perseverance in the Order.”
Brother Juan returned again in 1966 after the apparitions had ended. He was curious to find out if anything similar had happened. Conchita confirmed “the only thing the Angel had kissed had been our Scapulars.”
This leads one to wonder about the significance of this profound display of angelic predilection and solidarity. Conchita is quite clear in stating that the brothers themselves were pleasing to God. Considering over one thousand priests and religious attended the apparitions and there exists no other record of acknowledgment by Saint Michael, the singularity of the event appears to lend special importance.
Brother Juan Bosco, in his notes, believed this reciprocated the high esteem given to Saint Raphael in their community. More generally, the gesture conveyed a salute for the work of the Brothers who in their ministry of attendance and healing and their love for the poorest, the most neglected and infirm reflect the virtues of the angels.
Could there be some further explanation?
On July 19, 1936, by decree of the radically secularist government, the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God were declared enemies of the people of Spain. Ninety eight brothers were murdered in the Red Terror. The Soviet backed persecution of the Roman Catholic Church executed six thousand eight hundred thirty two religious, killed tens of thousands of lay faithful in odium fidei, and desecrated and destroyed over twenty thousand holy places.
The sons of San Juan de Dios remained with their patients, faithful to the fourth vow of the Order never to abandon the sick except in death. They made no attempt to flee the coming violence.
Seventy one brothers martyred between July 24 and December 14, 1936 were beatified by Blessed John Paul II including more than forty in Madrid and Barcelona who refused to leave the hospitals and were shot on site. Some were exultant at their execution, commending each other to imminent paradise. Their last words were of forgiveness, pardoning their murderers. All were steadfast.
Could the martyrdom which preceded the apparitions by a quarter century have had an influence on the occurrence of August 6, 1962? It is a wonderful idea to contemplate. At this time, there exists no evidence directly linking the two. Perhaps in the days to come or with the definitive resolution of the Aviso and Great Miracle this extraordinary event may be more completely illuminated.
As we share recollections of the events of fifty years ago we should honor this day, worthy of remembrance for the devotees of Our Lady of Mount Carmel de Garabandal. This day, the Angelic Patron of the Church of Jesus Christ venerated the Scapular of Saint John of God three separate times.
In Union of Prayer,
The Workers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel de Garabandal
Lindenhurst, NY USA