The Bridge To Heaven (revised and updated), by Michael H. Brown (with Drew Mariani), the book of interviews with famed seer and stigmatist Maria Esperanza  -- the extraordinary visionary associated with the Church-approved site of Betania and widely regarded as perhaps the greatest Catholic mystic since St. Padre Pio -- her life, her prophecies, her views on world affairs, her healings, and her spiritual advice. CLICK HERE



From all appearances, Pope Francis comes from a region of the world -- and of Argentina -- steeped in mysticism.

How that has affected him and whether it'll influence his future actions as Supreme Pontiff as well as judgment on matters such as apparitions remain unclear.

It was Pope Francis who, as a bishop, initiated much of the devotion in South America to "Our Lady, Undoer Of Knots" -- a mystical novena.

It is also reported -- by the Vatican press office -- that “on the Feast of St. Matthew [September 21] in the year 1953, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio experienced at the age of 17 years, in a very special way, the loving presence of God in his life. Following a confession, he felt his heart touched and sensed the descent of the mercy of God, who with a look of tender love, called him to the religious life, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola.”

In short, the Pope had a mystical experience.

It's also reported that on at least three occasions he approved the visits to parishes or a stadium in his archdiocese of two priests and a visionary, Ivan Dragicevic, from the currently-under-Vatican-study site of Medjugorje; the seer's visit came on March 4, just two weeks before Francis's election as Pope.

"He welcomed Father Jozo Zovko while on his mission in Argentina," reports a monastic French woman from the village. "He welcomed [another priest associated with the site] Father Danko last year, for his mission through Argentina. And Cardinal Bergoglio allowed Ivan to spread his witness in Buenos Aires early this March. Only a few days before leaving for Rome to join the conclave, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio gave his approval for Ivan to receive the apparition at Luna Park” (where 5,500 gathered for it).

And then there is Buenos Aires -- the province, not the city.

Less than two hundred miles west of the capital -- where Francis ruled as Cardinal Bergoglio, and before that as overseer of Argentinian Jesuits -- is an apparition site that stands with three others in Latin America (Betania in Venezuela, Itaparanga in Brazil, and Cuapa in Nicaragua) as approved at least in certain significant ways by the official Church in recent decades.

This is San Nicolás, Argentina and the approbation has come not in the way of official recognition of the apparitions themselves (as is usually stated in a pastoral letter, as at Betania) but only of the seer's messages and the building of a large sanctuary, as directed by those messages.

The reputed visionary, Gladys Herminia Quiroga, allegedly experienced visitations by the Blessed Mother from 1983 to 1990, warning of chastisements, growing evil in the world, and "very dramatic moments" for mankind if the evil is not purged.

"From the Church point of view the messages are approved and they are finished," Bishop Mario Luis Bautista Maulion stated to Spirit Daily a decade ago, in response to a query. "The effects continue, although there is nothing official about new messages. We presume there are not more messages. If there were it would be up to the church to discern them and publish any new messages after February 1990." He added: "The content of these messages is very spiritual. They call for conversion, prayer, and hope in a hopeless world. The consecration to Our Lady takes us to a very holy life which is the goal of baptism. It is a response to the secularism and materialism of our times."

The bishop at the time of the apparitions themselves, Monsignor Domingo Castagna, of San Nicolás, said in a homily on July 25, 1990, that "undoubtedly this event of grace will continue to grow; it has proved its authenticity by its spiritual fruits."

The site of apparitions has been visited by dozens of bishops and cardinals, not to mention priests; it would perhaps be surprising if one of them -- whether as a priest, provincial superior, bishop, or cardinal -- was not Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became an auxiliary bishop in 1992 and archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998.

There is no information as yet on whether he did visit, however, and if so, what his discernment was. The apparition in under the suffrage of an adjacent archdiocese (based in Rosario, which means "Rosary -- devotional as so much of this continent is, and as so many elsewhere are about to find out).

Whatever the case, it is a part of the world not nearly so quick to discount mysticism as Western Europe and North America (where there is but a single fully Church-approbated appearance of Mary, one that was recently approved but is a century and a half old).

Moreover, it is of potential interest that the Pope's motif and major themes at the onset of his papacy bear striking similarities to reputed Marian messages, including those of San Nicolás -- where charity, opposition to materialism, and care for the poor were likewise underscored (as they are, though, in Catholicism as a whole).

In his very first address to cardinals, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of the Cross and of redemptive suffering to the Church.

The Pope's emphasis on carrying the Cross is a special link, for the San Nicolás visionary, a housewife, is said to suffer stigmata. It occurs during Advent and on Fridays during Lent. The alleged stigmata began in the spring of 1984 and at the time the local priest, in a letter to the bishop, said: "Gladys does not refuse the physical and moral sufferings in that she understands them to be necessary for God's Plan and for Redemption. Gradually, she understands all that, and, in these last months, her silence has become more pronounced. In this reality, the great sufferings of the Passion and her internal fire could take place. The wound of love, and the affliction of love, of which Saint John of the Cross speaks, clarifies all that very much, and makes one think at least of similar possibilities."

There in Buenos Aires: an alleged stigmatic with the support of bishops.

In fact, according to Marian scholar Father René Laurentin of France, Bishop Castagna informed the Episcopal Conference of Argentina and "it showed itself extremely favorable, for many bishops had already confirmed in their dioceses the excellence of these fruits." A psychological profile of Gladys described her as possessing "a natural intelligence without intellectualism" -- a trait one might also use to describe the new Pontiff.

Was Cardinal Bergoglio -- not yet a bishop -- aware of San Nicolás?

On September 28, 2008, some 200,000 people participated in the Eucharistic celebration near the Sanctuary of Mary of the Rosary of San Nicolás, for the 25th Anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady in Argentina. The Eucharistic celebration was presided over by the new bishop of San Nicolás de los Arroyos, Héctor Cardelli, who in his homily stressed that "when Mary calls us together, the family is reinforced, because the Mother is bringing her children together." It is difficult to think that Cardinal Bergoglio -- now in that conference of bishops -- was unaware of this.

As long back as November of 1989 Bishop Castagna personally met with Pope John Paul II and discussed the apparitions.

On November 25, 1987, the archbishop of Rosario, Jorge M. Lopez, went to San Nicolás and said, "I was only a pilgrim like the others, who wanted to renew trust in and filial love for the mother of Heaven, and pray for her for the needs of the archdiocese and of the whole world. It was also the visit of the metropolitan archbishop of which San Nicolás is a suffragan diocese, in order to show my support and my approval of the principles and direction of my dear bishop of San Nicolás, Monsignor Domingo Salvador Catsagna, on the subject of the apparitions and the messages of the Most Holy Virgin to Mrs. Gladys de Motta."

Those messages were stark.

The majority of mankind, said Mary, was "contaminated."

Two-thirds of men were in darkness.

"In the large cities of the world, atheism and a complete indifference toward God reign," said one of the missives. "Men are in the process of falling. Their self-destruction progresses."

"My dear children," Mary said, "the young find themselves facing a corrupt, horrifying world. Do not allow yourselves to be taken in by the calamities which you have before your eyes. At the moment, humanity is hanging by a thread. If this thread is released, many are those who will not be able to save themselves. That is why I ask you to reflect. Do not delay, for time begins to end, and there will be no more room for those who are late."

On May 13, 1989, the Blessed Mother said, "My daughter, as previously at Fatima, today my visits are renewed on earth. They are more frequent and more prolonged, because humanity is passing through very dramatic times." She said Satan is aggressive because "he knows that his sad kingdom is coming to an end. In this way, he shed his poison with all his strength. There is only a little left. His end is approaching. If the devil acts ferociously, do not be scared. He attacks without compassion, involving whatever he can touch. The evil one is astute and calculating. He wants to destroy, but here he will not be able to do it. Here, it is he who will self-destruct."

The messages also claimed that a manifestation of Jesus was "imminent."

At the same moment, "a new time has begun," said Mary. "A new hope has born; attach yourselves to this hope.

"The very intense light of Christ is going to be reborn, for just as on Calvary, after Crucifixion and death, the Resurrection took place, the Church too will be born again through the strength of love."

[resources: "Our Lady, Undoer Of Knots," Lenten books; The Final Hour; Retreats in Buffalo, Syracuse; and Medjugorje pilgrimage, Michael Brown: purification, future, self-illumination]

[see also: Francis as cardinal approved of Medjugorje speakers, Prays fifteen decades of Rosary daily, From Malachy to Vatican experts, real prophet is Francis, and A striking Pope, and perhaps a prophetic one]

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