The Unsearchable Ways of God

For more than a year, on the difficult heights of Garabandal, unusual things - frequently very unusual - were happening. They were "unusual" in the double sense of being rare, and of being not easily understood. This last part was particularly disturbing to the "wise and prudent" (Lk 10:21). They could not see the purpose of what was happening nor could they see what would come of it. If God wanted to communicate something, He could do it in a more direct and simple manner without such a barrage of strange affairs. And He could do it soon. The hope and expectation were taking too long. And there were reasons for not accepting as coming from God - Who is the Light - this ensemble of phenomena that even after such a long time did not demonstrate a clear plan or purpose.


Photo: San Sebastian de Garabandal as seen facing west.

The learned think that the things of God necessarily have to be more intelligible. They walk on the terrain of reason. But for the learned and unlearned alike, this proclamation from God was written in the Old Testament centuries ago: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are My ways exalted above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts" (Is 55:8-9). And with the coming of the Word into the world, the situation did not change. In the middle of the New Testament stands this formidable statement from the greatest preacher of the Gospel: "Oh, the depth of the riches, of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways" (Rom 11:33).

Today it is often said that the important thing is the Bible: that is everything. All right, but is the Bible a series of lessons logically coordinated, perfectly explained, and easily intelligible? If there are wide roads, they are those of the Bible, that is to say, the ways of Salvation History. If there are mysterious ways, they are those of God in the course of that History. In attempting to explain to people what the Bible was, a scriptural scholar wrote in a popular review: When we open the holy book, what do we find there? Many think they will find sublime ideas and marvelous theories concerning God, man, and the world. What a disillusion! Next to exciting stories, we find others very superficial, harsh, and unacceptable to our mentality. All these texts confuse us. Why? Because of the inaccurate idea of God's revelation to us. We imagine God as a type of theology professor, as a preacher who speaks well and says elegant things.


Photo: Father Valentin Marlchalar, village pastor during the time of the apparitions.

God reveals Himself to us, coming down to meet us, walking with us, adapting Himself to our steps, even our stumbling, falls, ignorance. Jesus spoke to His disciples of "things that you cannot understand now; the Spirit of Truth will give you the understanding of everything later."

These words express better than any theory the pedagogy always used by God in His revelation. He knows that it is not possible to give everything in the first lesson. Such love! He adapts Himself to us. When we were children, He spoke to us as children. That is to say, He limited Himself to being at our side, without our even noticing Him. And He does not hurry to take away our stubbornness. The Bible is the history of the perennial association and conversation between God and man.

- El Santo, January, 1972

It seems to me that it is not difficult to understand the Virgin's association and conversation with us, through the girls, which has been the basis of the amazing story of Garabandal.

Steady Flow Of The Mysterious

During the whole month of August, 1962, the second August at Garabandal of the "apparitions," the marvelous and disconcerting "monotony" continued. The monotony consisted in what was occurring there, what had never occurred anywhere else: ecstasies, inimitable prayers and hymns, walks of marvelous grace and agility to the Pines, to the cemetery, through the streets of the village, around the church.

There are numerous testimonies about the girls' amazing mobility during their ecstatic marches. José Luis Gonzalez Quevedo, born in Santander but for many years established in New York with notable professional success, went several times to see the ecstasies during the first summer of the events in 1961. He was so impressed that even after many years, he could never forget what he had experienced there. On one afternoon he was accompanying Conchita in ecstasy. Suddenly the girl rushed forward like a flash in a direction that would have caused her to run into the wall he saw in the background and hurt herself. This man, who was then young and athletic, raced after her to catch her and stop her in time; but he could not reach her, nor was his intervention necessary. He told me: "When there were only a few centimeters left before she hit the wall, the girl, who couldn't see ahead of her because of the position of her head, unexplainably, abruptly stopped. I arrived in time to see her smiling broadly with a marvelous expression on her face. It was something I could never forget."

Father Valentin's notes and the reports of others all narrate essentially the same occurrences throughout the month of August: the girls' circuits up to the Pines, to the church, to the cemetery, and through the village. But aside from the sameness of these reports, from time to time interesting or revealing details popped up. For example:

August 18. During an apparition on that day, Saturday, Conchita said to the Virgin, "You pray very much! To whom do you pray?... To Jesus? You pray to Him?... Even though He is your Son! Why?... Who is God? [We have here another response in anticipation of the deviations and errors that were then secretly developing with regard to the Faith, and which only after the Council would come into the open concerning a dogma so fundamental to Christianity as the Divinity of Christ. The Holy See finally had to intervene - perhaps somewhat too late - with a document from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, published in March of 1972.

As in so many other matters, also in regard to the Divinity of Christ, the "new theologies" of today have succeeded in repopularizing the old heresies.]... Oh! Only one God." She also said: "Why don't you let Mari Cruz see you? See how sad she is! Be with me half the time and with Mari Cruz the other half."

- Fr. Valentine's notes

But I do not want to pass over a letter that Maximina Gonzalez wrote to Dr. Ortiz on the following Sunday, which is dated simply August, 1962:

...I didn't hear it personally, but some of those who were there heard it, among them a priest. And it was on one of those nights that Conchita came to my home, where I was lodging some people from Catalonia.[ Maximina used to provide lodging in her home for the visitors to Garabandal. This time she over-committed herself to such a point that there were no beds left for her own daughter and son.] My children were sleeping on a mattress laid on the floor, and I had put chairs around it so no one would see them like this. Conchita came in ecstasy and went into the downstairs rooms and made the sign of the cross over the beds. And then she went where some children of the people from Catalonia were sleeping and she gave them the crucifix to kiss.

Then Conchita left, but she stopped on the stairway and said a few things. Then she let out a laugh and, turning around, went straight toward where I had hidden my children. (I was perspiring with dread that they would be seen on the floor like that.) She made her way through the chairs and fell on her knees next to the children. She spoke for a while and at that time she was heard to say, "Oh! So he is going to be a priest?"

And she gave the cross to both of them to kiss, and made the sign of the cross at the feet of the little boy, but only him. I mentioned this yesterday, Saturday, to a missionary priest from Bilbao who was in my home for a while. And he told me that the cross that Conchita made at the feet of the little boy was something very mysterious... I don't know how he explained it to me, but I'm very happy. Father Luis Retenaga prayed for the child and blessed him many times; and it could be that the Virgin heard him, since my son from his youth has been saying that he wants to be a priest. May God will it! May he be a good one.

Today, Sunday, Conchita and Loli fell into ecstasy going out from the rosary [in the church], which was at night.[Normally the rosary was said at a different time on Sundays than during the weekdays, when it was recited at nightfall after the people had returned from work. On Sundays it was said at one o'clock in the afternoon. Maximina notes this; and she should know, since she was the one who ordinarily] They walked in ecstasy for some time. Jacinta and Mari Cruz walked by themselves since they went into ecstasy a little later. And afterwards the four joined together, went up together to the Pines, and came down backwards. If you could have seen how they descended through the worst paths! It was very dark. Everyone was coming down with great difficulty, while they came down without stumbling. They walked through the whole village backwards, praying two rosaries. It lasted a long time. Last night Mari Cruz's ecstasy lasted a very long time; they said about two and a half hours.

We have some brief notes from Father Valentin that complement those of Luis Navas and Maximina Gonzalez, helping us to better recreate in our minds the atmosphere at Garabandal during the early part of August, 1962:

August 22. The four fell into ecstasy; first Loli and Conchita; afterwards, Jacinta; and finally, Mari Cruz. The latter, on coming down from the Pines, went to the house of Daniela (who was in bed, with her leg in bad condition making it impossible for her to walk). And she gave her the crucifix to kiss. Daniela jumped from the bed and said she was cured. I think there might have been some suggestion, but she jumped up and went up the stairs as if there were nothing wrong with her. We will see what happens tomorrow.

Father Valentin did not hide his disbelief that this was really a miraculous cure. However Father de la Riva added to the words of the Garabandal pastor some of his own: "I was at the village, and I heard the joyful shouts of the people who had seen what had happened, and were discussing it as if it were a miracle. I was able to see later that there was no natural explanation for what happened. Daniela went to have an x-ray taken and a complete cure was reported. She is now married and has children, which wouldn't have been possible with the disease she had in her hip."

As the month was about to end, on Wednesday, August 29, something occurred that seems very important, although Father Valentin dispatches it with a few words: "Loli had an apparition in her home at 5:30. She gave the articles to the Vision to be kissed. An Anglican woman was very much moved. She wanted to be baptized." [Meaning with the Catholic rite, since it is supposed that she had already been baptized in the Anglican Church.]

The visitors to Garabandal were numerous during the month of August, since it is a vacation month and the Santander area is a traditional resort area during the summertime. We know from Father Valentin, for example, that on August 8, besides the two priests from San Sebastian previously mentioned, there were many people in the village from Asturias. On the twelfth there were two monsignors from Oviedo: Monsignor Novalin and Monsignor Rafael Somohano. On the fifteenth, feast of the Assumption, an Augustinian and a Franciscan priest and two nuns were there; on the sixteenth, three priests from Palencia; on the seventeenth, 200 visitors, among whom were the sons of Spanish Vice-president, Carrero Blanco, (one of the sons was the mayor of Madrid): Count Santa Marta de Babio; two brothers of Martin Artajo; Don Alberto, secretary of the Attorney General and former Minister of Foreign Affairs: and Don Javier, who held a high position in the prestigious Editorial Católica.


Photo: Father Jose Ramon Garcia de la Riva put in the fields with Jacinta during the time of the apparitions.

Among the many qualified visitors in Garabandal during those days, we have to single out the pastor from Barro, Father de la Riva. His stay was a long one and he sought to use all his time to the maximum. A page from his memoirs tells us his experiences during those days:

I went down to Cosio every day to celebrate Mass.[ In order to dissuade priests from going to Garabandal, authorities did not permit them to celebrate Mass in the village church; and we know how difficult the road to Cosio was.] Then I would go back up to the village again and ask where I could find the young visionary that I wanted to accompany to the fields that day for the gathering of hay, which they called "verano." Then I took the road leading to the barn where she was working.[These barns were generally a long way from the village and reached by steep and difficult trails.] In the evening I returned to the village. At nightfall there was the rosary in the church, then the apparitions, which often were very lengthy. All this greatly exhausted me.

I was able to see later what there was no natural explanation for what happened.

This exhaustion that was wearing him down led him one afternoon, perhaps on Saturday, August 11, to refrain from accompanying the visionaries in their ecstatic marches. On going outside after the rosary, instead of following Jacinta, who was marching at the time through the village in a trance, he accompanied the girl's mother to her home and there began to eat dinner. After dinner, over which anecdotes of the apparitions were shared, Father de la Riva went to Maximina's house, where he was lodging, and went to bed. He writes:

I was a little sad about not having witnessed the apparitions that day like the other villagers and visitors. In a brief prayer before going to bed, I asked the Virgin, if she wasn't angry with me for not being there for the apparitions after the rosary, to give me a sign. And I slept like a log.

After several hours, I was awakened by someone running and I recognized the voice of Nandin (Loli's brother, Fernando) saying, "Maximina, open up! Loli is here." I turned on the light, looked at my watch, and saw that it was a quarter to four in the morning. I said to myself, "It has to be at least an hour that Loli has been in ecstasy."


Photo: Father de la Riva.

"The Virgin had wished in this way to show her displeasure [ In a short series of articles entitled "What hasn't been written about Garabandai" that appeared in the weekly Que PASA? (Barcelona) during 1968.] because on that night some women had joked about the apparitions.

In the meantime, people were knocking at the door of my room. I quickly sat up in bed and tried to make myself look presentable. "Come in," I said. The door opened with a bang and Loli appeared in ecstasy. She fell to her knees and slowly began to make her way, on her knees, toward the wall that was facing me. This impressed me very much even though I didn't know at the time that when the girls visited the homes in ecstasy, almost the first thing that they did was to pray for the deceased members of the family. On the wall in front of me was a large photograph of Maximina and her husband, who had been dead for some years. Kneeling under the photograph, Loli prayed for a short while.

Then she turned on her knees and came toward my bed. With the crucifix she held in her hand, she first made the sign of the cross over the pillow and then smiling, put it on my lips. She continued smiling, turned around and began to make her way toward the door, still on her knees. When she got to the doorway, she stood up and went out.

Then I said to myself, "The Virgin is in the village... and you? Still in bed?" I dressed quickly and ran toward the church. On passing by Loli's house, I noticed the girl was in the kitchen still in ecstasy.

Naturally Father de la Riva went inside, and soon became aware that the girl was then speaking about what had happened in Maximina's house.

After the ecstasy, there were two questions: the first, to find out why the trance had begun much later than the hour predicted (which had been at three o'clock); and the second, to explain the reason why Loli went unexpectedly to Maximina's house. Loli answered the first question by saying, "The Virgin had wished this way to show her displeasure," because on that night some women had joked about the apparitions. They had asked the girl if the Virgin painted her nails, if she combed her hair, if she wore a bracelet... No one could answer the second question adequately. Ceferino could say only that his daughter, without his understanding the reason, "immediately on going into ecstasy, at about 3:45 in the morning, went running toward Maximina's house."

"Then it occurred to me," said Father de la Riva, "that the Virgin had consented to answer my petition, giving me the sign that I had requested." And the proof was not for his benefit alone.

The Eucharist In The Foreground

It is unquestionable that if Garabandal began as an exceptional Marian epiphany, it soon revealed itself also as an undertaking to foster Eucharistic devotion. And in this regard, it can be recognized that it was coming just at the right time, since surrounding the Mysterium Fidei, the Eucharist, there was then emerging the enormous crisis of doctrine and devotion that is so well known to everyone today.

This Eucharistic dimension of Garabandal had a special importance during the second year, 1962, as the reader may have noticed. Among the many episodes that took place almost monotonously in the mystery of Garabandal during the month of August was a mystical Communion on Monday, August 6. This was not the only day for these Communions. From Father Valentin's notes we know about other days in August on which they occurred. Furthermore, the priest's notes for August 2 specifically state: "Conchita says that from July 18, whenever there isn't a Mass; and Loli too." This sentence cannot be interpreted in any other way than that Conchita and Loli ordinarily were receiving Communion from the hands of the Angel whenever they were not receiving it from the hands of a priest. If such Communions passed unnoticed many times in the village, it was due to the time and place in which they occurred.

Before returning to August 6, let us see what happened on the previous day, Sunday, that Father Valentin described in his notes:

Today Conchita came to Mass after the Sanctus and then came up to receive Communion. Since she had missed the Mass and it was a day of obligation, I didn't give her Communion. I did the same with a man from Catalonia and two seminarians; but I finally gave it to the seminarians, since they told me that they were going to hear Mass later.

What could be thought of the pastor's attitude? He is correct, provided that Conchita was culpable of being late - something which Father Valentin had no way of knowing - or if it was something habitual with her. And was this the case? I do not know, but I have an article written by Mr. Gonzalez-Gay of Santander:[In a short series of articles entitled "What hasn't been written about Garabandal" that appeared in the weekly Que PASA? (Barcelaona) during 1968.]

On the previous night the girls had been in ecstasy for a long time, causing them to go to bed very late. (Father Valentin himself corroborates this, noting: "At four in the morning Conchita and Loli had an apparition; it lasted 45 minutes.") The pastor rang the bell at eight o'clock. Conchita and her mother, who didn't hear the bell, came into the church when the Mass was already past the Offertory. At the proper time, Conchita went with the other people to receive Communion, kneeling down at the Communion rail. But Father Valentin skipped over her twice. He didn't want to give her Communion since he noticed she had come late for Mass. Two big tears rolled from the girl's eyes, and she returned to her place. The holy Mass ended, and going outside, she ran from the church in the direction of the Pines...

Excerpted from SHE WENT IN HASTE TO THE MOUNTAIN by Eusebio Garcia de Pesquera, OL.F.M., Cap
Reprinted with kind permission from St. Joseph Publications andGarabandal Journal January-February 2006

Back to Section Witnesses

Next Article The Wedding Rings