Bishop In Venezuela Said He Himself Saw Phenomena And Consulted Pope Directly
By Michael H. Brown
The bishop with jurisdiction over the apparitions at Betania, Venezuela, has related that he himself encountered supernatural events surrounding Maria Esperanza -- the 74-year old mystic at the center of the apparitions. It is a significant admission in an era when few bishops acknowledge the authenticity of apparitions, let alone lay claim to bearing witness.
The bishop, Pio Bello Ricardo, a trained psychologist, said he has seen an array of phenomena around Esperanza, including "the phenomenon of profuse sweating and perfume coming out of her, a perfume like roses. And I perceived it clearly. It was sweat, but it was sweat that had the smell of roses."
Bishop Ricardo also testified that he saw "the transfiguration which happens to her when some gold spray seems to cover her hands and face and her body. It is a little thin film of gold spray. Also the phenomenon of levitation have been taking place. I have testimony from many people about the transfiguration which takes place in her, the phenomenon of stigmata which takes place on Good Friday. I have also seen that the Host will be floating in the air."
We must caution that due to language differences the meaning of certain words may have been distorted, at the same time that we warn that even if a seer is legitimate and holy, individual phenomena must be separately discerned.
But Bishop Ricardo, who made the remarks during interviews conducted in the early 1990s for the recently revised book, The Bridge to Heaven, and who has since retired, said he consulted the Vatican before issuing a 1987 proclamation authenticating the events at Betania -- which is in the general proximity of Caracas, Venezuela's largest city.
"I spoke to Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger twice about this," the prelate said, referring to the prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is widely believed to be the Pope's most important consultant. "He had no intention of interfering. [Our discussion] was mainly about Betania. I also spoke to the Pope about it. It was a general observation about procedure. The Pope said it seemed like a sign of the times, the many apparitions around the world. He recommended a book about Medjugorje by Father Rene Laurentin. My personal impression is that the Pope believed the apparition of Medjugorje was authentic. I explained the apparition at Betania and the main message of reconciliation. He said that we must be prudent, but that this seems to be a sign of terrible times. The Pope said the Spirit is using Our Lady as an instrument in evangelizing the world."
In a significant revelation, Bishop Ricardo added that the vast majority of Venezuelan bishops okayed his decision to approve Betania. "We live in a world which is technical, with no faith," he said. "We are not living in the Middle Ages, when people accepted apparitions. Now, even bishops and clerics are against apparitions. But here only two bishops in Venezuela were against Betania, and there are 36 or 37 bishops, counting auxiliaries."
It was on March 25, 1976, that Maria Esperanza first saw the Blessed Mother at a small hillside about an hour from Caracas. Eight years later to the day -- on March 25, 1984 -- seven successive apparitions of the Virgin were witnessed by a total of 108 people, with others reporting phenomena in the ensuing days. Bishop Ricardo collected about 550 written testimonies, including one from an army general, he has related.
"We can't say with exactness how many there were because many have seen this apparition but haven't given their testimony," he said. "I would calculate about 1,000 to 2,000."
Bishop Ricardo said he was sure there were "some false visionaries" -- people imagining they were seeing something that was not actually manifest -- "but this was very few people," he added, explaining that in evaluating the case, he used the "same psychological approach" that is used in a court of law "in listening to eyewitnesses."
"When I was working on this I was a psychologist, not necessarily a believer," he maintained.
Previous to Betania, the last declaration with the same level of ecclesiastic support was the case of an apparition at Beauraing in Belgium during the early 1930s. Since Betania there has been full ecclesiastic approval of apparition in Kibeho, Rwanda, and Managua, Nicaragua, with partial approval of other sites in Argentina and Japan. The Church has not yet ruled on Medjugorje.
Bishop Ricardo noted that he did not simply approve the orthodoxy of the Betania message, but the apparitions themselves -- a significant heightening of accreditation. "Actually I didn't see any difficulty in declaring something which seemed to me so very certain," he states in the book -- again citing the volume of first-hand testimonies. He added that Maria often "announces surprising facts" -- an allusion to her reputed abilities to read souls and glimpse aspects of the future.
The bishop further said that two physicians sent him testimony about a rose alleged to have arisen from Esperanza's chest on 15 occasions -- perhaps the most spectacular and at the same time difficult-to-believe mystical phenomena recorded at least since Padre Pio -- yet witnessed by many competent and in some cases professional observers, including a TV film crew and a broadcaster.
"You can't even think of an explanation psychologically for why these things happen," said Ricardo. "I mean, why would a rose begin to grow from someone's chest? What natural explanation could this have? I frankly can't see any possibility of an explanation for this phenomenon, and other phenomena take place [at Betania] of the same type which definitely have to be supernatural."
The bishop described Esperanza as a "very, very good person, a very good Christian.
"For her there is nothing strange about spending a whole night in prayer, all night long in prayer," he said. "She has a great loving spirit too. She is always willing to help, to collaborate, and to give her helping hand to others."
Asked if the Vatican had also been told such details about Esperanza, Bishop Ricardo said, "I have advised them about her personal phenomena. [When] I was in Rome, I informed them about this personally."
[Resources: The Bridge to Heaven]
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