The year is 1961. John Kennedy has just been inaugurated president of the United States. A Russian, Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space. American-trained Cubans invade the Bay of Pigs. East Germany begins construction of the Berlin Wall. Bill Gates is 6 years old.
Three hundred people live in eighty houses in an isolated mountain village in northern Spain. There is no electricity or running water. There are no cars or motors of any kind. The only heat is from fireplaces and cook stoves. When the winter snows come, the village is shut off from the rest of the world for weeks at a time.
The village is called San Sebastian de Garabandal. It is a simple place; you might call it a place of poverty. The people make a meager living from raising sheep and cattle or grass that they grow on the mountainside. Food and other supplies are obtained over a narrow, rocky mountain road from the city of Cosio four miles away. The children sporadically attend the one school in town. When they grow up most leave to find work and homes.
Most of the village is Catholic, but there is no priest. One comes up the mountain from Cosio on Sunday evenings for Mass and confessions. Prayer is an important part of daily life.
It is in this setting that the Blessed Virgin and St. Michael the Archangel appear to four eleven and twelve year old girls between June 18, 1961 and June 18, 1965. There are some 2000 apparitions overall, during which the girls are in a trance like state. They can see each other and the Blessed Mother, but are aware of nothing else. Their eyes are fixed almost straight upward in an awkward position. They often walk frontward and backwards, up and down the mountain at speeds the people cannot keep up with. All of this without stumbling.
All kinds of “tests” are performed during these trances. The girls are poked and pinched, stuck and shaken. Lights are flashed in their eyes without any reaction. They are aggressively interrogated singly and in groups in an attempt to prove that these events are from natural causes or from the devil. Many priests believe, but the Church authorities refuse because they must. The Church’s investigation continues. Only time and lots of it will allow the Church to confirm and believe.
What are we to make of all of this? Well for one thing, the pattern is familiar. The trances, the messages, warning, the isolation of the village life are all remarkably similar to those given at Church-approved apparition sites such as Fatima and Lourdes. For another thing, there was little for these four girls to gain from this except suffering, which they did both during and after the events took place. And, as in so many of the Marian Apparitions, the “fruits” are worthy beyond a doubt. Many lives have been changed by the events.
Why should we make a pilgrimage to this place? Our God is a hidden God. To see him we need eyes of faith. To find him we need to work all of our lives to deepen that faith. He seems to help us in that effort with signs and miracles to keep our faith from regressing into fantasy. When we study the signs he has given us, and particularly when we approach them physically, our faith becomes strengthened. And the answers to the deep and all-important questions of life become more obvious.
Albright, Judith M., Our Lady at Garabandal, Faith Publishing Company, Milford, Ohio, 1992.
Perez, Ramon, Garabandal, The Village Speaks, The Workers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Lindenhurst, NY, 1981
The Message of Garabandal, Video by the Workers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Lindenhurst, NY