Above left author/writer Michael H. Brown with mystic Maria Esperanza and her husband Geo. Above right Maria Esperanza with Michael H. Brown.
Below article/biography on Maria Esperanza from [here].
She is widely regarded as the greatest living mystic. The miracles that surround her are vast -- among the best documented in Church history. Not since Padre Pio, the famous Italian priest now set for canonization, has there been a thaumaturge, a "wonderworker," of her scale. She's a seer. She's a healer. She's a stigmatist. She often exudes an inexplicably beautiful fragrance. Some even claim to have seen her in levitation.
Maria Esperanza was born 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 in Barrancas 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 (Spanish for Mary) and Esperanza if it was a girl.
Her marriage was typically providential. At first she wanted to become a nun and entered a convent in 1954. That same year, on October 3, at the end of a Mass, 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 Inmaculada.
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 sanctuary.
In February of 1976, while Maria was in Italy tending to Geo's ailing mother, the Virgin told Esperanza to head back for Venezuela and prepare herself for something that was to happen at Betania. Maria did as she was told and at this spot on a hillside encountered an apparition of the Virgin, who called herself "Reconciler of Peoples and Nations. It was the onset of apparitions and miracles - in many cases extraordinary, well-witnessed manifestations - that continue to this day. The sun pulsed here as at Fatima, there were strange white forms, there was a blue butterfly that seemed to flit out from the grotto at the moment Maria went into apparition. The most momentous occurrence came on March 25, 1984, when seven successive apparitions were witnessed not only by Maria but a total of 108 people.
In the days and months that followed, hundreds and then thousands saw manifestations at Betania or around Maria. It was this series of events that started a formal inquiry by Bishop Pio Bello Ricardo of Los Teques. Trained as a psychologist and with a tendency toward skepticism, Bishop Ricardo personally interviewed several hundred eyewitnesses, including an army general, a lawyer, an atheist, and a doctor who all claimed to have experienced the supernatural. In all the bishop took 550 formal written statements and concluded that extraordinary paranormal events were indeed taking place around Maria.
That wasn't all. The bishop himself had witnessed phenomena. He had miraculously recovered from an illness after a visit from Esperanza, and had smelled the rose fragrance. "I have also been able to see the transfiguration which happens to her when some gold spray seems to cover her hands and face and her body," says Pio Bello. "It is a little film of gold spray. Also the phenomenon of levitation has 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." After an extensive evaluation the bishop flew to Rome and confided the happenings to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and to the Pope himself. Heeding protocol, the bishop discerned the matter for three years and then issued an extraordinary pastoral letter that declared Betania "sacred ground" and stated that the incidents "are authentic, they are supernatural, and they are of a divine source." It was the strongest such ruling since Fatima. Thirty-five of Venezuela's 37 bishops and auxiliary bishops supported him.
By 1993, Dr. Vinicio Paz, a local specialist, was estimating that there were 1,000 physical healings at Betania and that at least 10,000 had witnessed phenomena around Maria. One cure occurred to a doctor himself. This was the incredible case of Dr. Vinicio Arrieta, a Harvard- educated physician who was healed of cancer and whom we have written of previously [see article]. Others have been cured of paralysis, liver disorders, and leukemia. According to biologist Samir Gebran, a doctor of immunology and Maria's son-in-law, strange relics are found around Maria. In one case she felt compelled to go to a creek, pulled a rock from the ground, and on it was a white image of the Virgin. Another time, upon her first visit to Massachusetts - where she had mystically advised a Boston-area nun on where to build a retreat center -- Maria once more felt compelled to head into a forest and told those with her to dig up a rock. When they did, they encountered an image that bore similarities to the face of Jesus.
There is no living mystic who has been affirmed by such competent witnesses. Are there detractors? Yes, as there are always detractors. But the litany, especially from those who have lived with her, seems endless. I have spoken to another son-in-law who described how he would pad downstairs in the middle of the night when he and his wife were staying with Maria and see Esperanza deep in prayer and surrounded by a large halo. Still others have encountered unearthly luminous fogs or during Mass have seen her feet rise several inches. On December 8, 1991, a Host used at Betania began to bleed as the priest held it, and in another Church-authorized miracle it has been exhibited in a special reliquary in Los Teques -- where those who visit have seen images form in it and have even videotaped it turning into what looks like flames (there is a short video of this). "I had a scientific investigation conducted, and this was done by a laboratory that is totally trustworthy," says the bishop. "They proved definitively that the substance that leaked from the Host was human blood."
Most incredible are claims, again made by competent observers - doctors, a TV journalist - that on 15 occasions a stemmed rose has pushed out from the skin near Maria's bosom. The rose witnessed was an actual flower, red and touched with dew. This, of course, is impossible to believe. But many are those who claim to have seen it -- first a dot of red, then the bud, which unfolds as the stem with thorns breaks through the skin and causes Maria an agony they have compared to a woman giving birth. Carolina Fuenmayor, a journalist from Venevision, the major station in Caracas, has filmed it but at Maria's request will not release it until after Maria's death.
What are we to make of such accounts? Is Maria indeed a modern, female version of Padre Pio? Or is it all too much to believe? I can only say that aside from the tremendous array of phenomena (I am only here scratching the surface), there is the fruit of love. Those around Maria - her husband, her seven children, her in-laws - are filled with joy and zeal I have never seen before. They don't want to be away from Maria and often the entire family - up to sixty - have traveled with her to the U. S. "I have seen how petals of roses appear, how there is a materialization of roses, and one smells the roses in the environment," says Dr. Gebran. "I have seen how the Eucharist materializes on her lips. I cannot give any explanation, because in her many supernatural phenomena take place. This is outside of science."
As for the stigmata, Maria's doctor, Alfonso Gutierrez Burgos, has no doubt about it. He was an eyewitness. "When I observed the stigmata, the army general was there and other people as well, so I am sure that these things are happening to her and are of a supernatural character," says Dr. Burgos. "As a doctor I examined her hands and I tried to see what kind of a wound it was. They were very fine wounds in her hands and they were swollen in the middle. They separated her skin and they hurt her very much. That was accompanied by a loss of blood, a tremendous loss of blood." "Maria Esperanza is a very, very special person," adds Carolina Fuenmayor, the TV reporter who has witnessed both the stigmata and the rose. "She's not from this place. She's like in-between [earth and heaven]." Only the most powerful of historic mystics have had events like Maria's, and few are those whose phenomena have been verified while they are still alive.
Such claimed phenomena indeed are hard for even the faithful to accept. It is only after reading the full details or spending time with Esperanza and at Betania that one begins to integrate the realism of her experiences. Everyone who has spent time around Esperanza is as amazed at the love and unity in her family as the phenomena. Most impressive is the feeling of unconditional love and joy that pours from her. There is a remarkable cognizance - as well as an unforgettable twinkle - in her scrutinizing brown eyes. But she also carries a message of warning.
The moment has arrived in which mankind must awaken, says Esperanza, in which it must awaken to the love of God. In the coming years a new light from heaven will illuminate hearts, she says, but before it does there will be hardship. She foresaw AIDS and now sees other problems, including another disease and a foreign threat to the U.S. (by two nations, one large, one smaller, who will conspire to provoke America). A "very serious moment" will arrive but humankind will survive and will be better for it and will live in the truth of God. She claims that this is "the hour of decision for humanity." She sees war, societal problems, and natural disasters. But she also sees a cleansing that will restore humankind. "A great moment is approaching," she Esperanza. "A great day of light!"