"A bishop will come along who will not believe at first, but will receive a sign and allow priests to go up to Garabandal for the Miracle." - Conchita in a 1962 letter to Fr. Jose Ramon Garcia de la Riva
Has this prophecy been fulfilled or is it still pending? When Conchita wrote her letter to Father de la Riva, there were restrictions in force on priests going to Garabandal and for them to make the climb up to the village they needed special permission from the Santander chancery. But that changed in the 1980s and presently there are no restrictions. So, if the fulfillment of this prophecy is still to come, it will require that restrictions be reimposed (by the sitting bishop) and then again lifted (after he receives his sign) shortly before the Miracle. Without discounting this possibility, we are inclined to believe that the prophecy has already been fulfilled.
In his Memoirs, Father de la Riva gives his eyewitness account of a night in August of 1961 when members of the Commission appointed by Bishop Doroteo Fernandez, Apostolic Administrator of Santander at the time, were in the village church of Garabandal while the visionaries were there in ecstasy. At one point, one of the priests of the Commission went up to the sanctuary, and standing right by the girls in ecstasy, turned facing the people present and said: "Whatever happens, I don't believe in this." Out of respect, Father de la Riva did not mention his name in the published editions of his Memoirs, but since this priest's identification is important to our story, and since he has gone on to his eternal reward, we will mention it here. That priest, then a canon of the cathedral in Santander, was the future Bishop of Santander, Juan Antonio del Val Gallo.
Bishop del Val (+ November 13, 2002) reigned from 1971-1991, and when he took over the diocese, he clearly did not believe in Garabandal although he had a much more open attitude toward the events than his two immediate predecessors, Bishops Puchol and Cirarda. But throughout the 1970s, nothing changed regarding Garabandal and Bishop del Val said he was in communion with his predecessors, and the former restrictions remained in force.
In 1982, Bishop del Val was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent an operation in Santander performed by Dr. Andres Garcia de Tunon, a believer in Garabandal (it seems the Bishop could never get away from Garabandalistas). While he was recuperating in the hospital, he received a visit from Mari Loli, one of the visionaries of Garabandal, who had been driven there in the car of a French priest, Father de Baillencourt and his secretary, Christina Bocabeille.
Loli was alone when she entered the Bishop's room and during her visit she asked him if he had anything kissed by the Blessed Virgin at Garabandal. When he said no, Loli gave him her last crucifix. The ever cautious Bishop responded: "I'll take it because it comes from you." (Loli was on cordial terms with the Bishop.)
After the hospital visit, Loli returned to San Sebastian de Garabandal where she was visiting (at the time she lived in Massachusetts with her husband and family) and her mother told her she had found another crucifix kissed by Our Lady at Garabandal. Was that all there was to Loli's visit to the Bishop in the hospital?
In 1983, Dr. Luis Morales, chief medical examiner of the 1961 Commission, who by then had had his own conversion to belief in Garabandal, gave a lecture to an overflow crowd in the Ateneo, Santander's largest conference hall, in which he placed Garabandal on the same footing as Lourdes and Fatima. This was big news and made headlines in the local papers. And not to be overlooked was the fact that Dr. Morales could not have given his lecture without the permission of Bishop del Val. Placido Ruiloba of Santander, a great witness to the Garabandal events, told me that there had been nine meetings leading up to the Dr. Morales lecture and in those meetings were three people: the doctor, Placido and Bishop del Val. So what made the former unbelieving Bishop permit Morales to give his lecture and testimony in favor of Garabandal?
On the day after Dr. Morales' lecture, many of us who attended went up to Garabandal. I was seated for lunch in the Meson Serafin, at a table with Dr. Tunon, who had operated on Bishop del Val the year before, and his wife who spoke English. She told me that before the Bishop went into the hospital they did not think he believed in Garabandal, but when he came out he was completely changed.
When I got back to New York, I attended Conchita's holy hour which she held each week at her old address in Queens, New York. After the prayers, those present asked me to give an account of all that transpired in Santander with the Dr. Morales lecture. Normally in those situations, Conchita doesn't pay much attention, but this time she was listening carefully as I related all that happened and what I had learned including Loli's visit to Bishop del Val in the hospital and her giving him the crucifix. When I said goodbye to Conchita, she responded not with her usual hasta luego, but by saying "thank you."
Did the Bishop now believe in Garabandal? Did he receive his sign in the hospital? Did it have to do with Loli's visit? Did Conchita know what the sign would be? We can't answer those questions, but perhaps one day, if Bishop del Val left something in writing, we will know more.
But if the Bishop now believed (in my notes of February 13, 1984, I jotted down this entry: Conchita is convinced that Bishop del Val now believes in Garabandal), what about the prophecy being fulfilled?
In 1987, Bishop del Val officially lifted restrictions on priests going up to Garabandal and gave the pastor of Garabandal at the time, Father Juan Gonzalez Gomez, authority to allow visiting priests to celebrate Mass in the village church.
As previously mentioned, Bishop del Val was a cautious man, but did he ever actually say he believed. Well, yes he did. Earlier this year, our friend Ed Kelly spent several weeks in the Santander region with his home base being San Sebastian de Garabandal. As a former Spanish teacher, Ed is fluent in the language and over the years beginning in 1971, has spoken to and interviewed people connected in some way to Garabandal. While he was staying in the village during his most recent visit, he came across Dr. Tunon who owns a house in Garabandal and was up there cutting the grass when Ed met him. Here's what Dr. Tunon told him. After having completed the operation on the Bishop in 1982, he went to see him in his hospital room during the recovery period. "I was sitting on the edge of the bed when he said to me, 'I, Juan Antonio del Val Gallo, believe in Garabandal. But as bishop I can't say that.'" Yes, he was a cautious man.
Written by Barry Hanratty
Reprinted with kind permissionfrom Garabandal Journal, July-August 2008