Throughout May 2022, the ‘Our Lady around the World’ series explored Marian apparitions, images, stories and devotions from various locations around the globe. This May, we continue the journey, delving into the rich history of Marian apparitions and devotions in more locations, starting with Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
Finca Betania is a farm belonging to the Diocese of Los Tesques, Venezuela. On this farm, a brook runs down the slope of a hill near an old farmhouse, forming a small cascade that flows through a tunnel of dense vegetation. In this tunnel, apparitions of Our Lady were witnessed in 1976, and again sporadically until 1990.
She appeared primarily to Mrs Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini, who saw her 31 times over that 14-year period. Our Lady identified herself as ‘Reconciler of People and Nations’, and encouraged people to give their hearts to her son, Jesus, and to follow them to the ‘promised land’ of heaven.
In 1984, a crowd of about 150 gathered for Mass at the site, and Our Lady appeared to them seven times, for 5–10 minutes each. At dusk, she was seen for half an hour. It was this event, and the flood of testimonies resulting from it, that prompted Archbishop Pio Bello Ricardo’s investigation of the apparitions.
Although he initially approached the investigation with an attitude of scepticism, the volume of witnesses (reaching nearly 500 by that point), their psychological conditions and the commonalities in their experiences led him to officially declare that the apparitions were authentic. He was also impressed by the effects of the apparitions, which had led to countless conversions and had inspired people to live their Catholic faith more fully.
During the apparitions, Mary’s messages focussed on calling people to conversion and to a deepening of faith, asking them to pray and frequent the sacraments, and to express solidarity with the poor and needy.
Archbishop Ricardo also clarified that the title ‘Our Lady Reconciler of People and Nations’ points to the fact that, as Mother of the Redeemer, she is a collaborator in Jesus’ work of reconciliation. The calling to reconciliation is a timely one for today, the Archbishop wrote:
Now, if there is something characteristic of this last century and half it is violence, hatred and fighting of people and groups, of social classes and nations, division of hearts and deeds, wars. Initiatives towards peace and union have risen; and organisms and actions have been planned. But these plans have been ineffective because they only touch the surface of human life, and they don't reach the deep dimension of hearts and souls, there where the seed of hatred and division germinated as an effect of the original sin.
In May 1980, Our Lady appeared again to a humble sacristan named Bernardo Martinez. The first strange occurrence was actually in April, when, while cleaning, he noticed a strange light coming from his church’s statue of Mary. At first, he thought some children might have smashed the window behind it, but upon closer inspection, the light seemed to be emanating from the statue itself.
Then, in May—the same month Our Lady appeared at Fatima—she appeared to him, and did so several times throughout June and into October. He recounts seeing a beautiful lady dressed in white and with ‘the sweetest voice’ he had ever heard in a woman. Her message was simple and an echo of Fatima as she called people to take up the Rosary and to revive the practice of the ‘First Five Saturdays’.
The First Five Saturdays devotion comes from Our Lady’s request to the seer at Fatima, the girl Lucia. Mary promised to assist at the hour of a person’s death if they, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, went to confession, received Holy Communion, prayed the Rosary and meditated for just 15 minutes on the mysteries of the Rosary. During the apparitions, Martinez admitted that people had fallen out of this practice.
The final apparition was in October 1980, when she appeared to Martinez and a few others praying at the site. She ‘extended her hands and rays of light reached all of us,’ he recounted.
She gave this prayer to Martinez:
St Mary of Victory, Favourite Daughter of God the Father, give me your faith; Mother of God the Son, give me your hope; Sacred Spouse of God the Holy Spirit, give me your charity and cover us with your mantle.
In 1994, Bishop Bosco M Vivas Robelo of the Diocese of Leon officially approved the apparition and declared it authentic. Bernardo Martinez went on to become a priest.
The story of Our Lady of Good Success actually begins in Spain. In 1606, two brothers of the newly founded Order of Minims for the Service of the Sick were travelling to Rome to seek official approval of their order. Near the Catalonian town of Traigueras, a storm broke out of such terrible intensity that they genuinely feared for their lives.
After praying to Our Lady for help, they saw a light in the distance and decided to follow it. The light led them to a cave in the mountains, where they encountered a statue of Our Lady holding the baby Jesus in the crook of one arm, and with a sceptre in her other hand. They took shelter from the storm there, and after making enquiries with the locals the next day, who knew nothing about the statue, they took it to Pope Paul V, who ended up approving their order and placing it under the patronage of Our Lady with the new title ‘Our Lady of Good Success’.
The devotion reached Ecuador, thanks to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres, who, though born in Spain, went to Quito at the age of 13 to found a convent there with other sisters—the Royal Convent of the Order of the Immaculate Conception. On 2 February 1610, Our Lady appeared to Mother Mariana and asked that a statue be made of her under the name ‘Our Lady of Good Success of the Purification’, and it was similar to the one the two brothers brought to Rome with them. In several alleged apparitions, Mary warned of coming tribulation and the need to stand firm in the faith.
In 1906, when her body was exhumed, Mother Mariana was found to be incorrupt, and to this day her body is kept in the cloistered convent inside of a glass casket.
While the English translation of this title refers to ‘success’, the word in Spanish means something closer to ‘event’. ‘Our Lady of the Good Event’ would be a more accurate rendering, although she is commonly referred to as ‘Our Lady of Good Success’ in English-speaking countries.
In 1991, Archbishop Antonio José González Zumárraga received permission from Rome to carry out the canonical coronation of Our Lady of Good Success as Queen of Quito. The statue sculpted at Our Lady’s request is brought out for nine days prior to the feast of the Presentation, with many pilgrims coming to venerate it. On the feast day itself, thousands take part in a dawn procession.
Melbourne Catholic12 May 2022
Melbourne Catholic18 May 2022