Photo: From left - Brother Juan, Mari Cruz, Brother Miguel, Jacinta and Brother Luis.
On August 5, 1962, we four religious Brothers decided to go to San Sebastian de Garabandal. When it came time to leave the following morning, one of the Brothers decided not to go, so the other three of us left immediately for Llanes to catch the 7:10 A.M. train for Unquera. From there we could transfer to whatever would take us to our destination.
When we got to Llanes, a kind gentleman told us to go to Pesues whe're we could get an 11:30 A.M. bus for Cosio. We arrived in Pesues at 8:00 and not wanting to wait for the bus we started walking to the next village. Not 200 meters on our way we met some workmen who told us there probably was another bus leaving before 11:30 from the next town.
We continued on our way by no means sure of ourselves, when a taxi appeared carrying a single passenger. The workmen had flagged him down and told him where we were going, so he stopped and was good enough to pick us up. For a nominal fee, he took us to Cosio where we arrived around 9:00 A.M.
We were now six kilometers from Garabandal, facing a horrendous road and difficult climb. Asking around the village for information on how to get up there, one of the shopkeepers told us that Fidelin, a local taxi driver, would shortly be bringing back down from Garabandal a psychiatrist from Barcelona and his family. [Note: This would have been Dr. Ricardo Puncernau.]
We took advantage of the opportunity to ask the psychiatrist his opinion. He told us without reservation that as far as he was concerned, the happenings in Garabandal were extraordinary and supernatural, and that the girl visionaries were completely normal. Then he told us to go up and find out for ourselves.
We arranged to have Fidelin take us. The fare was usually 300 pesetas but he was willing to settle for whatever we could afford to pay him. On the way up we spoke about visions and related matters, and found that Fidelin was a fierce defender of the supernatural nature of what was happening in Garabandal.
We arrived in the village at 10:15 A.M., and stopped near the house of Mari Cruz. She was outside with her older sister so we bombarded her with questions. She answered some but at others she simply smiled.
After talking to her for about ten minutes, Jacinta, another one of the visionaries, came walking by. She gave us an angelic smile and then we began to pelt her with questions. Her answers were similar to those of Mari Cruz. We took a few photographs with the both of them.
Then some men from Andalusia came along and joined in the conversation. They had been there several days, had witnessed some apparitions and were very enthusiastic and impressed by what they saw. We noticed the affection and support they had for the girls, and while we were distracted by what they were telling us, Mari Cruz and Jacinta slipped away unnoticed.
That night, there was going to be an apparition of Our Lady and we wanted to stay and witness it, but we had to get back for the start of our spiritual exercises. Seeing our distress, Fidelin, the taxi driver, volunteered to take us to Celorio. Since the descent to Cosio was so dangerous, we would have had to go on foot, and he also offered to accompany us with a flashlight. (This meant that Fidelin would have walked up to Garabandal and then served as a guide in leading the Brothers back down to Cosio.) All this was freely offered just so we would be able to see "the miracle."
Once all these arrangements were made, we decided to go up to where the apparitions had taken place. Along the way, we met a priest from Beasain who had been in the village several days. According to the Andalusians, he had received a great grace from Our Lady through the intercession of Conchita. We tried to get him to tell us what had happened, but all he would say was, "Go, and see for yourselves." He was still very emotional. So we climbed the hill and sat down at the Pines to eat some sandwiches we had brought with us.
No sooner had we started eating our sandwiches when a girl 13 or 14 years old arrived accompanied by three little girls probably two, five and six years of age. We asked if she were Conchita. "Yes," she replied in all the simplicity and openness that characterized her.
Surprised and very happy, we began to shower her with a multitude of questions about the events occurring in the village. We offered her one of our sandwiches, but she said, "No. I'm going to receive Communion here." We asked her how that was possible since we were up at the Pines. "The Angel is going to give me Communion because I couldn't receive in the Church," she said. Thinking that perhaps the Angel wouldn't come if we were there, we asked her if she was sure. With surprising firmness she answered, "Yes."
For an hour and a half we continued asking her questions and she always answered with her appealing simplicity and humility.
Of the many things she told us was that of having been ordered by the Virgin to write to several people she had never seen or met; to have talked to a dead Jesuit priest in German, English, French and Greek; to have received two letters from Padre Pio; that the Virgin kissed her with much love every time she said farewell; that the Virgin appeared to be 18 years old and was dressed in a white tunic and a blue mantle, and that the Virgin was always smiling whenever Conchita saw her.
She told us that the Jesuit priest she spoke with had died the day after seeing a vision of Our Lady; that Padre Pio had sent her a small envelope and in one of the letters said that the chalice was full, that the Lord was very weary of so many sins, and that if we do not do penance the Chastisement will come. We asked if the punishment will be like fire. She answered, "No, worse than fire."
Photo: Conchita and her three little friends with Brothers Juan Bosco and Luis (right).
We asked to see the rosary she was wearing around her neck so she took it off and showed it to us. It had four medals attached to it which she offered to us. At first we refused, but when she insisted we take them saying they had been kissed by the Virgin, we accepted and took them off the rosary.
She told us the Angel who gave her Communion was Saint Michael, and that she will become a Carmelite nun, the kind that teach in schools and do charitable works for the poor, but that this was her own idea and not something the Virgin told her.
She told us that the Virgin sometimes appeared with the scapular of Carmel, that during her Communion we will not see the Angel nor the Host and that the Virgin had never said a word about building a church there. [Note: But Conchita did say that Our Lady asked for a chapel to be built to Saint Michael.]
Finally we took some pictures with her and the three little ones who accompanied her.
As a curious detail, she mentioned that whenever the Virgin ordered her to write, she would tell her when to write "b" or "v," a truly maternal touch. [Note: In Spanish "b" and "v" are very close in pronunciation and the uneducated girls of Garabandal sometimes confused them.]
She began to drift away from us and we were somewhat taken by the way she moved, looking at us with a pleasant smile. Going a few steps further, she fell to her knees, tilted her head back at what seemed a sixty degree angle, looked up, and putting her hands together, became ecstatic.
Two of us fell to our knees around her, one about three steps in front of her, the other at her side; the one with the camera took pictures, then the one at her side stood up to look at her expression, eyes, mouth, and gestures. When she fell on her knees she made the sign of the cross in a slow reverent way. She whispered some words, struck her breast three times and came out of the ecstasy.
Photo: Top - Conchita in ecstasy looks up to her Vision, but Brother Luis doesn't see anything. Bottom - Conchita holds up the large scapular part of a Brother's habit to her vision of Saint Michael.
We began to question her again: "Did you receive Communion? Why did you take the scapulars and hold them up?"
"The Angel asked me to and he kissed them."
"Did you speak with the Angel?"
"What did he tell you? Did he say anything about us?"
"The Angel already knew you were here, and told me that I had come here because you were here. He also said Our Lord and Our Lady were pleased with you."
"Did he tell you anything for each of us?"
"Yes, he gave me a message for each of you."
"No. I'm supposed to tell it to the Virgin first; the Angel said to ask Our Lady first."
"Then will you tell us?"
Do you remember whose scapular you held up first?
"First, Father Luis's, then Father Miguel's, and then Father Juan's." (She said this after thinking a bit, as if trying to remember.) I should add that we had hurriedly told her our names when we gave her our scapulars before the ecstasy.
"What did the Angel look like?"
"He had a blue tunic, pink wings and wavy hair about shoulder length."
During our conversation with her before and after the ecstasy she kept calling each of us Father, and now we explained to her that we were Brothers, not priests. When she heard this she said, "So that's why the Angel called you the Brothers. When I told him you were not my brothers, he smiled."
Again we asked her, "Is the message of Our Lady for us grave?"
"What does grave mean?"
"Is it good or bad?"
"Are you really going to tell us?"
"Yes, yes, I surely will."
We never gave her our address.
[Note: Although not mentioned in this account Brother Juan Bosco confirmed that Conchita eventually sent the messages. Brother Juan, who died a couple of years ago, had been asked what the message to him said, but he would not reveal it.]
Coming down from the Pines we asked Conchita if it was not inconvenient, that she show us the letters from Padre Pio to which she agreed.
So we accompanied her to her house, where a young priest was waiting for her. He asked her where she had been, because he was waiting for her, and her mother had gone looking for her. She told him that she had been at the Pines, where she received Communion from the Angel. We confirmed this, saying we had witnessed the ecstasy. Thinking we were priests, he showed surprise, commenting that this was the first time the Angel had given Communion while a priest was present. We informed him that we weren't priests, but religious Brothers of St. John of God. This priest had intended to give Conchita Communion in the parish church.
The priest translated the letter from Padre Pio for us. It went something like this: "This morning at 8:00 the Virgin Mary spoke to me about you. Don't worry. The Mercy of God will be with you eternally. The world will not believe in the apparitions of the Most Holy Virgin until it is too late, because the Chastisement will come when least expected."
We asked Conchita's mother what she thought of all this. She said that since the day witnesses saw the Host on Conchita's tongue when she received Communion from the Angel (Miracle of the Host, July 18-19, 1962) she was happy and at peace. Before that she was worried.
As our visit drew to a close, Conchita put her kerchief around her head, and leading her donkey, headed for the fields to do the farm work. We made our farewell and left.
Photo: Conchita in ecstasy amidst the great peacefulness of the Pines.
By 6:00 P.M., we were back home filled with impressions that have helped us in our spiritual lives.
Reprinted with kind permission from Garabandal Journal - September-October 2004
Excerpted from Los MILAGROS o FAVORES DE NUESTRA MADRE DE GARABANDAL and translated from Spanish by Dr. Edward Serrano