During the autumn days of 1962, the main topic of conversation in the Catholic Church - and also in other churches called Christian - was the inauguration of the Ecumenical Council that His Holiness John XXIII had convoked. It was to be called Vatican II because of the site where it was held; it was to be the most ecumenical of all those held until then, both by the number and by the variety of its participants. The proceeding had enormous expectations which were accompanied by immense hope. And so anticipation for the Council was resounding throughout the world long before the heavy bronze bells of St. Peter's rang out their symphony over Rome on the morning of October 11. Garabandal could not avoid the impact of such an event. Because of this, attention was focused in two directions: on Rome and what was being prepared there, and on the mountain village with the course of its own proper "affairs" so marvelous almost always, so unusual from time to time. Among the unusual happenings, we know about some particularly intriguing ones which have yet to be sufficiently clarified.
A letter that Maria Herrero wrote to her sister on September 24 includes this sentence: "I told you on the phone about the fire; they have taken the earth to analyze it." From this brief remark, we can't ascertain what she is referring to; but fortunately this woman had the good idea to send a report in French to the Holy Office at Rome about information that she had heard from Father Valentin:
One day there were many people in Garabandal. Some of the visitors made a fire under the Pines to cook or keep warm. They left, thinking that they had put out the fire. Days passed, and that fire could not be extinguished, in spite of everything possible being done to put it out. I myself, on coming to the village during those days, could notice the strange brilliance up at the Pines. It was because of this that I asked the pastor about it. And Father Valentin explained to me the origin of the phenomenon and what had been done to end it. He added that the thing had lasted for weeks; and that seen from afar, it seemed during the day to be a column of smoke and during the night a diffuse brilliance. "There was no shortage of the learned in geology," he concluded, smiling with a certain gracious slyness, "who were determined to give an explanation for the phenomenon. We will see. For the moment, they have taken samples of this earth that burns for examination in the laboratory."
This is all that I can say about this undeniable and curious phenomenon, and this is rather little, since I was not able to obtain more information. Some passages from the Bible come to mind here: "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" (Ex 13:21-22). "And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke" (Joel 2:30).
Every person can have his own opinion about this. One thing is certain: in Holy Scripture, the column of smoke and the column of fire, the dark cloud and the devouring flame, are always used in connection with manifestations of the Divine Presence. And I might add that this was not the only case of unexplainable fire reported in Garabandal. The people there speak about what mysteriously happened to a man in the village on a night when he was passing by the Pines; and also about what happened to the son of Simon and Maria on an early morning before dawn when he was going down toward Cosio to catch a bus. Senora Herrero de Gallardo was speaking with Mr. Illera (a person well known in Santander) in the Hotel Real of that city, on September 2,1965.
This is what she heard him say: I'm not the person to say if the events of Garabandal are true or false; that's the task of the Church. But I'm able to give testimony of what I've seen, since I followed the things that were happening there in 1961 and 1962 with great interest. What I'm going to tell you now took place in 1964, when the apparitions had already ended.(The apparitions did not end until November of 1965, but an almost complete eclipse occurred after the winter of 1963.)
I had gone up to Garabandal and was walking through the village when suddenly, in a completely clear and cloudless sky, a very thick, black cloud appeared and hovered abovethe Pines. I was looking at it, astounded, not knowing how to explain where it had come from. The cloud seemed to grow bigger, to become darker and more threatening. I was mesmerized looking at it. Suddenly the cloud broke in half; and as if welling out of it, there appeared a little glow, or if you will, a little white cloud - very bright - which increased in size, and increased in size again, until it engulfed the imposing black cloud and made it disappear. For a length of time - I could not say for certain how long, several minutes anyway - the brilliant white cloud stayed there, crowning the Pines. And then it suddenly, unexplainably disappeared, leaving the sky as blue and transparent as though nothing had passed through it.
The fact seems undeniable, and it could be the basis for many comments and interpretations. Was all this a prophetic announcement of something that was going to happen? And if so, to whose future was it referring, that of Garabandal, so despised by some clerics, so rejected by many bishops? Or the Church after the Council, according to some revealing words of Paul VI that we will quote later? Concerning this enigma, only God can give satisfactory answers.
Reprinted with kind permission from Garabandal Journal May-June 2006
Excerpted from SHE WENT IN HASTE TO THE MOUNTIAN by Eusebio Garcia de Pesquera, O.F.M., Cap.