Garabandal: The New Bethlehem

It is not a mere coincidence that San Sebastian de Garabandal has a curious comparision with Bethlehem.

An angel announces the arrival of the Blessed Virgin to an inconspicuous village ignored by the world. This village is poor and its people lead an austere, country life; most herd animals for their meager wages. The Holy Virgin arrives at this village, carrying the Savior of the world. Amid the peace and serenity of this rural setting, the hand and majesty of God is made present and conveys a message of love, hope, peace, and praise to Almighty God and His divine mercy. While the world sleeps, heaven visits a setting of poverty far from the polished walls of power and money. It is to the most innocent, humble people that this message is first conveyed, with the intent that it soon be spread to the rest of the world. This does occur, but it is not easily accepted by all, and is ignored by many. The progress of time and the future will show that this message is eternal and the key to salvation. Many will guess that this town is located in the Middle East, but it just as likely may be found in northern Spain, for it is not a mere coincidence that San Sebastian de Garabandal has a curious comparison with Bethlehem.

While most of us have heard the name of the place where Christ was born on that special night, few of us know what that name means. The name Bethlehem means "house of bread". The name was well chosen, for Bethlehem was literally the supply depot, a feedlot of Jerusalem, and a gathering spot of shepherds. More important, Bethlehem came to mean more than just a place that fed the world around it; from its walls came the Bread of Life, Christ, who came to feed us that we would be hungry no more. So much of Christ's ministry is about feeding. The loaves and fishes and The Last Supper are but two of the most significant examples of this. It was Mary, the Holy Mother of God, who would bring this manna, or heavenly food, to us, to this town whose name symbolized everything that this Holy Child would be about. Until recently, everything about Bethlehem has been quiet, peaceful, reverential. Its meaning and spirit fills the air and softly conveys a holy peace to a world filled with everything but holiness and peace. Growing up, Bethlehem always filled me with comfort and helped me to heal the wounds which the year had inflicted on my faith and strength. Bethlehem became not only the house of bread that fed my longings, but also the heavenly hospital that soothed my pain and suffering.

It was there, in that simple, humble place, that the star had settled after guiding the wise men to their goal of finding a king. I also longed to follow that star and someday visit that special place where my Savior favored us with His birth. It is obvious that there is no replacement for the unique spirit and place of Bethlehem in our minds, hearts, and souls. Recent events in the Holy Land, however, have made that dream more difficult to realize, but Almighty God has provided us with another way to honor and recall the special spirit of Bethlehem.

The events at Garabandal reflect a mystical connection with what transpired at Bethlehem those many years ago. As I walked through the rocky, dusty roads and looked at the humble, friendly people, I could not help but think how Our Heavenly Mother had visited all of these homes at one time or another. My walks from the pines to the village church filled me with echoes of what special things had happened along those paths.

Standing at the spot of the Visible Host, I felt as some distant visitor to a sacred spot whose value was hidden to the earthly eye. No, this was not Bethlehem, the house of bread, but it was Garabandal, where Christ, the Bread of Life, had been such a central part of the messages. Just as Our Savior, the Manna from Heaven, came to the earth through His Sacred Mother and unto a humble place apart from human tastes and favor, so too, had my Heavenly Mother brought my Savior in her arms to this place, a place where more respect and reverence was paid to the Holy Eucharist in a puddle than is often paid in the finest and most golden cathedrals of the world. Through Her actions at Garabandal, Our Heavenly Mother instructed us in respect, humility, obedience, praise, and gratitude to Almighty God. Just as she obeyed God's call from an angel, visited her cousin while expecting a child, and later traveled by donkey for 5 days and nights while in her ninth month, Mary reminds us that obedience and faith in God is the greatest way to honor Him.

Another key element of Garabandal is the importance of the family, as evidenced by the many visits of the visionaries, in ecstasy, to families. Garabandal tells us that we are all called to make our families more holy, with the Holy Family of Bethlehem as our guide.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ each year, let us fill our hearts and souls with the spirit of Bethlehem. Despite a world where even the special peace of that town has been touched by violence, we can breathe and live its message of love, peace, humility, obedience, gratitude, and praise to Almighty God.

In filling our souls with that spirit of Bethlehem, let us look to Garabandal, where that same message was brought by Our Heavenly Mother and her Son to a simple, humble, poor place ignored by the world. If the star of Bethlehem was the guide to the Light of The World born in a manger, then we can look to the future where, once again, the majesty of God's power and love will be visible at the pines so that those wise in the spirit may honor and remember their Creator. If Bethlehem and Garabandal have one central theme that binds them, it is that the measure of God is quite different from that of the world, for the Hand of God is found among the meek, the humble, the innocent, the poor, and the ignored. If we want to find God, it is among these that we will feel His presence the most.

Reprinted from Garabandal International Magazine, Oct-Dec 2002, by Gabriel Garnica

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