Our Lady of Betania
Maria Esperanza was born in the village
of San Rafael, Barrancas, in the far southeastern corner of the State or
Province of Managas, Venezuela on November 22, 1928. Her mother had desperately
wanted a daughter, she already had three boys, and asked the Blessed Virgin Mary
to grant her a girl. True of the prophecy of a local woman, who in an omen
foresaw the birth of an extraordinary child, Maria was born on the feast day of
Saint Cecilia, who is associated with music. The birth occurred while Maria's
mother was taking a trip by boat and in fact arriving at a port in search of
better medical facilities. It was a very painful delivery, and during her
pregnancy Maria's mother had often prayed before a picture of the Blessed Mother
- offering her child to Mary and promising to name the child Maria and Esperanza
if it was a girl.
So came into the world "Mary Hope,"
destined to shine like a star, destined to be an instrument of heaven. She was a
sick, suffering youngster who often recovered from disorders in momentous ways.
Prodigious too was her yen for the spiritual. As a child she often played with
dolls dressed as priests or nuns. When she was five she had her first mystical experience with the apparition
of Saint Theresa of the Little Lower, who from the waters of the Orinoco River
tossed her a red rose. At twelve she became sick with an acute
bronchial-pneumonia; but after having a vision where she saw Our Lady of the
Valley, Patroness of Margarita Island, she recovered miraculously. During her
adolescence, Mrs. Maria Esperanza’s health was frail and her heart grew weaker
and weaker. Later on, the onset of another illness partially paralyzed her. She
was told by twenty-two physicians she had no hope of life. Then, she was healed
again after the Sacred Heart of Jesus appeared to her, and gave her the first of
hundreds of messages.
Following her profound desire to be a
Religious, she lived for a period of time with the Franciscan nuns in Merida. On
October 3, 1954, at the end of a Mass in the Chapel of the Convent, she had another implausible
experience. Once again, Saint Therese the Little Flower appeared and once more a
rose was "thrown" to her. But this time when Maria went to catch it - as she
had done as a girl of five - it wasn't a rose that landed in her hand. Instead
there was blood. It was the onset of Maria's stigmata. "Work out your salvation
as a wife and mother," the Little Flower instructed Maria, who indeed sensed
that her vocation would be that of a family woman but went to Rome to live at
the Ravasco Institute, which was operated by the Daughters of the Hearts of
Jesus and Mary at the Vatican.
On August 22, 1954, on a visit to Caracas, Maria had a dream about a place where
miracles would take place and where there would be an unusual blue butterfly. In
1956 she returned to Rome where she met her future husband, Geo Bianchini
Gianni, as had also been foretold to her. The following October 13 - anniversary
of the "great miracle" of Fatima - the Blessed Mother told Maria she would be
married on December 8, 1956 - yet another feast day, this time the feast of the
Immaculate Conception (and Geo's birthday). They were married that day in the
choir chapel of the Immaculate Conception at St. Peter's Basilica. No one had
ever been married there during the holy season of Advent, and it was only after
a cleric, Monsignor Julio Rossi, parish priest at St. Peter's, noticed the
incredible aura around Maria, as well as the scent of roses. That caused him to
go to Pope Pius XII, who knew of Maria and secured final approval for a ceremony
in the historical chapel. Their first child, a daughter, was named Mary
During these younger years Esperanza
made the acquaintance of Padre Pio, the most famous mystic since Francis of
Assisi, who had told people he expected to be visited by an extraordinary woman.
"There is a young woman who is going to come from South America," Pio said.
"When I leave, she will be your consolation." When finally they met, Maria would
hear his "call" even though she was far away near Rome and she would head for
his monastery at San Giovanni Rotundo on the barren east side of Italy - where
despite throngs waiting to see him the aged priest called out: "Esperanza!" On
September 23, 1968, Maria had a vision of Padre Pio. "Esperanza," he said in the
vision, "I have come to say good-bye. My time has come. It is your turn." As
this was happening Geo watched with amazement as his wife's face transfigured
into that of the Italian priest. The next day they saw in the newspaper that Pio
(whose funeral would be attended by more than a million) had died.
One thing she had discussed with Pio
when he was alive was her vision of a special plot of land where the Virgin Mary
would appear. In the vision Maria had seen an old house, a waterfall, and a
grotto. "From 1957 until 1974, we searched for this land in all of Venezuela,"
says Geo, who had oil concerns and a construction business in Caracas. Then came
a visit from a friend who came to ask for help during a drought. The cattle on
his land were stricken with hunger and Maria told Geo they should go see it.
When they did, in March of 1974, they immediately fell in love with the
picturesque hillside about an hour and a half from Caracas. "It corresponded
exactly with the vision my wife had been given," says Geo of the land known as
Betania. There was an old sugar mill on the land, and although it wasn't
apparent at first, a stream and waterfall were also located on the property. Geo
and his partners purchased the land and cleared the hillside. They saw it as a
place for all faiths - not just Catholics. And Betania quickly became a
Our Lady appeared to Maria Esperanza for the first time on March 25, in
1976. The Virgin Mary manifests herself under the title, "Mary, Virgin and
mother Reconciler of all people and nations". More apparitions took place for her and for some people very close to her,
generally the same date or during other Marian Feasts. Everything changed
radically on March 25, in 1984 when the Virgin appeared to 108 people. This
group as well as other people, who saw the Virgin at different moments, gave
their affidavits to the former Bishop of Los Teques, Monsignor Pio Bello Ricardo
(+). He then began an investigation that lasted three years that concluded with
the approval of the apparitions. This Ecclesiastic approval was the fourth the
Church granted in the twentieth century, and it states that these apparitions
are authentic and of supernatural character.
Maria Esperanza died Saturday August 7, 2004, at 4:36 a.m. in Southern Ocean
County Hospital near the New Jersey shore, after a long bout with a Parkinson's
like ailment. All her family members were by her side at the hospital. After her
death the room was filled with a strong fragrance of roses. She was 75. Maria Esperanza is survived by her husband Geo, seven children and
grandchildren. Maria Esperanza was considered to be one of the greatest mystics of our time,
showered with many gifts from God. She has displayed a number of incredible
unexplainable phenomena that defies natural humanistic explanation. She
suffering with the piercing signs of stigmata and had the ability of healing,
levitation, bilocation, and capability of predicting future events.
This apparition is officially approved by Bishop Pio Bello Ricardo on November 21,
1987, who declared Finca Betania as a sacred place for pilgrimages, prayer and
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