Recently I had two interviews with the Bishop of the diocese of Santander, Don Juan Antonio del Val, who is the only authority in the Church responsible for pronouncements concerning the apparitions of Garabandal.
My first meeting with Don Juan Antonio occurred September 4, 1978, and lasted 90 minutes. During the meeting I presented him with the official message sent to him by the delegates of the World Marian Congress on Garabandal that met in Lourdes in August of 1978. Bishop del Val asked me to thank the delegates.
The delegates asked his Excellency to invite without delay all the living witnesses of the apparitions to give their testimony as a permanent record. His Excellency answered saying, "This work has already been entrusted to the pastor of Puentenansa and Garabandal, Don Juan Gonzalez." This step had never been taken before.
Photo: Father Francis A. Benac, S.J. (d. 1997).
This meeting with Don Antonio in a friendly atmosphere of trust and warmth was for me a fountain of information, inspiration and encouragement.
Recently, on February 7, 1979 (this year), I was welcomed to the second meeting with His Excellency that lasted 80 minutes. This took place in the Major Diocesan Seminary where he was meeting with deacons. I was greeted by the Vicar General who took me to Bishop del Val's office. The Bishop was appreciative of the information I brought to him about my meetings with important experts, theologians and writers concerning Garabandal such as: Fathers Joseph Pelletier, A.A., U.S.A.; Francois Turner, O.P., France; A. Combe, France; Canon Julio Porro, from the Tarragon Cathedral, Spain; Valentin Marichalar, priest of Cosio and first-hand witness to the apparitions; Juan Gonzalez, the present priest of Garabandal, and lawyer Francisco Sanchez Ventura, who has written one of the most popular books about Garabandal now in its nineteenth edition.
I also included a report on my meeting with three of the visionaries and with Father Ramon Maria Andreu, S.J., witness to many apparitions in Garabandal. The main topic of conversation with Bishop del Val was about the ambiguous words published by his office of public relations in Santander, in April 1978. My two long meetings with Bishop del Val could be summarized as follows:
1. That Garabandal is not a closed issue.
2. That the Bishop is willing to listen to the testimony of the witnesses to the apparitions and that he has appointed the parish priest of Puentenansa and Garabandal to record those testimonies.
3. That he always has been open, non-judgmental and willing to consider any new phenomena that may occur there.
4. That he considers the happenings at Garabandal a difficult problem that has not yet been resolved.
5. That he has never condemned Garabandal.
6. That he admits it has been astounding how the messages of Garabandal have reached the four corners of the world, as was demonstrated by the presence of 200 delegates from 26 countries in all the five continents at the World Marian Congress on Garabandal.
7. That he would have no objection should the Holy See, in collaboration with the Diocese of Santander, form a new Pontifical Commission to examine all the phenomena.
8. That he continues asking for our prayers.
Besides my meetings with the Bishop of Santander, providence granted me two other opportunities that I consider important for any future investigation by the Church.
Dr. Luis Morales from Santander, a well-known psychiatrist, had directed the investigations on Garabandal in 1961. In a conversation with the psychiatrist from Barcelona, Dr. Ricardo Puncernau, I found out that Dr. Morales had told him that he was interested in Garabandal and that he had changed his opinion about the apparitions. Before I went for my first visit with Bishop del Val, I asked Dr. Morales for an interview that was granted to me. You will be interested to know why he changed his attitude so drastically with the passing of the years.
In 1961, Dr. Luis Morales was appointed with a few others to investigate the events at Garabandal. The commision acted very superficially, interviewing the girls only a few times, and Dr. Morales, in a testimony of 136 words, declared that "The events at Garabandal are nothing more than a vulgar, hysterical exhibition."
On September 3, 1978, my first visit with Dr. Morales was recorded in its totality with his consent and lasted two hours. During the interview he was somewhat reserved in explaining his change of position on Garabandal and finally, because of my insistence, he said, "Now I see the existential reality of Our Lady in Garabandal. I think of Garabandal as Fatima: a gift of Divine Providence for humanity. Garabandal truly is a gift to us from Christ through his Mother..." At the end of the interview, he answered my last question by saying, "Oh, yes! Garabandal has been a manifestation of Divine Grace...!"
A typed copy of this conversation was presented to Bishop del Val. He reacted with a mixture of surprise and satisfaction to the change of opinion of Dr. Morales.
February 8, 1979, I had a second interview with Dr. Morales and found him calm, happier and very open. In this friendly atmosphere, he answered my pointed questions by saying that he accepted Garabandal as supernatural and that the messages came directly from God.
Then he told me how, a month before his wife died of cancer, he had borrowed from another cancer patient a crucifix kissed by the Virgin of Garabandal and presented it to his wife to kiss. Her pains disappeared and she remained with interior peace until the end. He also told me, with evident joy, that the patient from whom he'd borrowed the crucifix miraculously recovered completely from his cancer and now works in a bank.
This should be enough to illustrate to the reader the position of the Church on Garabandal. To understand the apparently long wait from the ecclesiastical authorities to pronounce a judgment on Garabandal it is convenient to remember that when the Fatima apparitions occurred in 1917 the Church never made a pronouncement until 1930, when the Bishop of Leiria made a short statement about them.
Signed: Father Francis A. Benac, S.J.,
Reprinted with kind permission from Garabandal Hournal, November-December 2005
Excerpted from LOS MILAGROS O FAVORES DE NUESTRA MADRE DE GARABANDAL by Maria Josefa Villa de Gallego
Translated from Spanish by Dr. Edward Serrano