My name is Helen Rozeluk. My husband Michael is a dentist in Toronto, Canada. Because our story is so closely linked to Garabandal, I must first give a short summary of the events of Garabandal.
Garabandal is a tiny village in the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain, where the Blessed Mother "allegedly" appeared to four little girls between the years 1961-1965. I say "allegedly" only because the Church has still not passed it's final verdict on the authenticity of these apparitions. However, what Michael and I experienced there and since then has really wiped out any doubt in our minds.
Our Lady appeared in Garabandal under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Mount Carmel is a mountain near Nazareth. In the early years of Christianity, it was in the caves of this mountain that the first monastic communities began. Today these monks are called the Carmelites. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the monks dispersed throughout the world. In the thirteenth century, their superior general was St. Simon Stock, an Englishman. In the year 1251 Our Lady appeared to him just the way she appeared in Garabandal: she wore a white dress covered with a blue mantle but, in addition to that, she wore a full-length brown apron that hangs off the shoulders. She took this "scapular" off Her shoulders and presented it to St. Simon Stock and said, "This is the clothing of protection for your order. Wear this, My Scapular. Anyone who dies wearing this Mantle will not suffer eternal fire."
Now, if we remember the traditional habits of many monks and nuns, they very often included a long strip of cloth that hung from the shoulders to the ankles, front and back. This is the scapular. However, lay people like you and me can hardly be expected to wear such a thing, so the Church adapted the full-length scapular for ordinary people to be simply two small squares of brown wool joined together with two ribbons or strings. This scapular is worn around one's neck, one woollen square on one's chest and one on the back. When blessed, it also carries with it Our Lady's promise, that whoever dies wearing it shall not suffer eternal fire.
In the Eastern Church, the history of Our Lady's mantle dates back to several hundred years earlier, to the year 921. Our ancestors, Michael's and mine, who lived just north of the Black Sea, used to love to sail down the Dnieper River, across the Black Sea to attack the Greek capital of Constantinople. Our ancestors, the Slavs, were pagans at the time. On one of these occasions in the year 921, when the armies of the Emperor of Constantinople were occupied elsewhere, the Slavs surrounded the city and held it under siege. The inhabitants were very frightened. They were defenceless. The Archbishop of Constantinople gathered everybody in the Cathedral at Blachernae, which housed the robe of Our Blessed Mother, and led the faithful in prayer. In the midst of these prayers, Mary appeared standing on the dome of the church and She spread her mantle over the whole city. This was such a frightening sight to the attackers, that they took off and fled. Since then the Eastern Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady’s Mantle on July 2nd.
July 2, 1961
The significance of this date is the fact that Our Lady’s first appearance at Garabandal was July 2, 1961.
When Our Lady appeared in Garabandal as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, it was as though to reinforce the importance of hanging on to Her apron strings. It was also meant to stress that, east or west, Our Blessed Mother is there as our protectress.
The Blessed Virgin appeared to the four little girls daily, many times a day, during those four years in Garabandal: night and day, winter and summer. She led them through the whole village in ecstasy, praying the rosary with them. She especially liked to have them pray before the Blessed Sacrament. She also stressed the importance of praying for priests, going to frequent confession, receiving Holy Communion daily, visiting the Blessed Sacrament often, but above all to lead good Christian lives.
The wearing of the brown scapular and daily recitation of the rosary were the constant underlying theme of these visitations. Our Lady taught the youngsters how to pray slowly, concentrating on what they were saying instead of just mouthing the words.
Whenever Our Lady appeared with baby Jesus, the girls played with Him and on one such occasion they tossed little pebbles to Him, hid them in their hair and wanted Jesus to look for them. Our Lady picked up these pebbles, kissed them and gave them back to the girls but said She would rather kiss blessed objects. The people responded by bringing their crucifixes, rosaries, missals, holy pictures, whatever they had and Our Lady kissed them and returned them to their owners. She also promised that, through Her kiss, Her Son would perform miracles and prodigies.
One of these kissed items was a medal, which one of the visionaries, Conchita, subsequently gave to Joey Lomangino, a blind man from New York, who later began a powerful Garabandal apostolate. Wherever he spoke, he would offer for veneration this medal that Our Lady kissed. And Our Lady was true to Her promise: there were many, many miraculous healings through this medal.
Our Connection to Garabandal
What is our connection to Garabandal?
Michael and I both grew up in immigrant Ukrainian families. As a result, our lives were very intimately tied to our Ukrainian community. We both worked in the same Ukrainian youth group, I taught in Ukrainian Saturday schools, sang in the choir, led summer camps. Michael was in the national executive of the youth organization and in 1986 was elected national president for Canada. When our children came, we raised them up in much the same way we were raised. In addition to regular school classes, they went to Ukrainian Saturday classes as well as the usual music and dance lessons and sports activities that most North American children take part in.
Michael's dental practice was very successful. He enjoyed his work. Patients liked him and some would travel quite a distance just to see him. Life was great. Our children, Natalka and Andriy, were doing very well in school. Everyone was healthy. Life couldn't be better.
At that time religion was not a priority in our lives. We were Sunday Catholics. And if something else was taking place on Sunday, then going to church would probably be pushed aside. But God had other plans.
On the evening of February 19, 1986 Michael was returning home from choir practice. He stopped at an intersection, waiting to make a left turn. No other vehicles were going in his direction. Suddenly, a small Volkswagen came careening from around the bend behind him and smashed into him at top speed. The impact was such that our large car was thrown thirty feet forward to the other end of the intersection. The Volkswagen was totalled.
To this day Michael does not remember how he got out of his car. His first recollection is of leaning over the hood of our car and feeling very weak, dizzy and nauseous. When a policeman finally arrived, he charged the other driver with reckless driving. There was also an ambulance station at that corner. The attendants ran out when they heard the crash. But neither they not the policeman thought to take Michael to the hospital. He was left to make his own way home in his own car, which was another half hour along the highway.
The following morning Michael could not lift his head off the pillow. He was one mass of pain, from his neck to his jaws to his shoulders and down his back. We had to cancel that day's patients and Michael went to see his doctor, who immediately sent him for x-rays. However, if there are no broken bones, and x-ray will show nothing. Michael was simply given pain killers and muscle relaxants and sent home. When things got worse, he was finally sent to a specialist, then another, then another. So began an eight year long procession of visits to specialists, lawyers, physiotherapists, chiropractors, even a psychiatrist. You see, if the doctor cannot find the problem, then it must be all in your head!
Michael could not take any of the prescribed medication. He had bad reactions to all of them. The only thing he could tolerate was Tylenol-3, but it helped very little if at all. He simply ate it like candy. I used to renew his prescription for 100 Tylenol-3 every three weeks, like clockwork.
Eventually, after several years, Michael finally managed to be seen by some top specialists: in Toronto, in Philadelphia, in New York and elsewhere. Finally we were getting somewhere. But the final diagnosis was very discouraging: Michael had damaged ligaments in his jaws and some damaged vertebrae in his neck. He was told to limit his work to one hour a day. His condition was permanent. He could look forward to increasing arthritis in his neck and upper back and could expect to be a total cripple within five years.
Living in constant pain and having no relief whatsoever, one still has to support one's family, pay the bills and put food on the table. This was what kept Michael going, sometimes by sheer willpower. He kept trying to work, but very often someone would have to bring him home in the middle of the day. If he managed to work three days in a row, he would definitely be flat on his back in pain on the fourth day. Sometimes he would faint from the pain. Sometimes it made him vomit. Sometimes it was so intense that he lay flat on his back on the floor for 40 hours, unable to move, unable to eat or talk. He was able to predict weather changes better than the weatherman. That was when it was the worst. Many patients left him. Many understood and stayed but they made a point of calling the office before coming in for their appointments, to make sure he was still there.
For eight years, Michael lost from one half to two and a half days work every week.. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out how that affects one's finances. You still have to pay your staff, your suppliers and your mortgage. There were many times when we didn't know if there would be enough to put food on the table. We lost many of our friends too. When you have to cancel your social occasions time after time, eventually those people stop inviting you or even calling you.
In addition to this, when you're in pain, you still have to put on a good face when you're at work. Then, when you come home, you let it all loose, and for eight years the children and I were like emotional punching bags. I never knew which Michael would be coming through the door that day. His outbursts were unpredictable. Anything could set them off. The children were also affected. But how do you explain to a six-year-old or a ten-year-old that daddy is not angry with them? "Why is Daddy always yelling at me? Why doesn’t Daddy want to play with me? Why doesn’t he want to pick me up?" How do you explain to a six-year-old or a ten- year-old that daddy is not angry, he is sick. So, for eight years, I was a parent and a half to the children, pretending to be strong.
With nothing but increasing disability to look forward to, Michael also became increasingly despondent. Every week for that eight years, I would hear one of two things from him. One was, "Why don’t you take the kids and just leave? You deserve a better husband, the kids deserve a better father, just leave me alone and go." And another one was, "Why don’t you go to the garage and get the axe and just give it to me over the head because I can’t take it any more!"
To tell the truth, between Michael's outbursts, the desperation, the illness, having to be two people at one time, helping him in the office as well, I was very close to losing it. I could have gone crazy. Either our marriage would have been gone, or I would have been sent to the mental institution. Only one thing kept us from falling to pieces, only one thing, and that was my rosary and Our Blessed Mother. The fact that Michael and I survived this ordeal and that we are here to tell you about it, I credit the rosary and Our Blessed Mother and Her alone. And I thank Her for it every day. Thank you, Mamma.
Written by Helen Rozeluk
Originally presented at the Jubilee Retreat at St. Margaret Mary Church in Slidell, Louisiana June 4 - 6, 1999