Because of Maria Esperanza Medrano Bianchini, Servant of God

Guest post by Allison 
A woman with roses that grow out of her chest. Who carries the aroma of roses, without wearing perfume. Whose hands bleed during Holy Week and who sees visions of the Virgin Mary in Venezuela. No, these are not reports from the Weekly World News. This is the story of Maria Esperanza, who died in Long Beach Island, New Jersey in 2004 and who the Church now is investigating for sainthood.

Some might dismiss such a woman, along with her followers, as kooks. Others might embrace her as a prophetess, even build their own religion around her. I am Catholic because my church treads the middle way: it keeps open the possibility of miraculous happenings while systematically investigating such claims. This is known as the canonical process. It won’t make Maria Esperanza a saint: it will confirm—or not—that she already is.

“The church takes these cases on with a lot of prudence and reason,” says my good friend and fellow parishioner Dan Finaldi, who met Maria Esperanza at healing Masses in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. “That process makes it much less likely that it can devolve into superstition or occultism.”

Dan’s own first-hand experiences with Maria Esperanza left him convinced. “She was clearly a gifted mystic,” he says, “there is no doubt about it.”

Last month, the opening of her Cause of Beatification and Canonization took place in the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi in Metuchen, New Jersey. More than a thousand people attended the Mass, including Dan.

Maria Esperanza, born in a town in Monagas State, Venezuela, in 1926, became known around the world after the Blessed Mother appeared to her and 150 others at a farm named Finca Betania on March 25, 1984. Our Lady is said to have appeared to the mother of seven children under the title, “Mary, Virgin and Mother, Reconciler of all People and Nations.” After an investigation, the local bishop approved the apparition in 1987. This was the fourth such Church-approved apparition of the Blessed Mother in the 20th century.

Visions of the Blessed Mother are not the only reason the Church is investigating Maria Esperanza for sainthood. Her charisma are said to have included: stigmata, visions of the future, the gift of healing, the gift of counsel, locutions, ecstasies, levitations, the materialization of the Holy Host in her mouth, the outpouring of flower and fruit perfume, the apparition of rose petals, levitation, bilocation, transfiguration, and a unique mystical phenomenon, the spontaneous birth or outburst of a rose—at 16 different times during her life—from her chest.

Dan is a painter and a bit of a mystical thinker. In the late 1990s, drawn to attending healing masses, he went to one in Perth Amboy where Maria Esperanza was appearing. He watched after the Mass, which was crowded with more than 1,500 people, as she spoke from the ambo. During her talk, he says, she fell into an ecstasy, which interrupted her talk. After the Mass, he said, he waited in a line for three and half hours for spiritual advice. Finally, he could wait no more and went home, giving a lift to two women he had stood in line with.

As they were driving away from the church, the three of them saw a very bright light flicker on and off in the darkened rose window by the choir loft. “There was suddenly bright illumination, as if someone turned on a very bright light inside a window . . . three bright lights illuminated the choir loft. It was an unusual thing to see.” Later, driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, Dan said he and his passengers saw a shooting star, a coincidence, he says, but an interesting end to the evening.

The second time Dan met Maria Esperanza, he was agonizing over whether to pursue a teaching career. He stood in line for three hours and finally had the chance to talk to her. “You know what it smells like when you put your face in a rose? “ Dan said. “That is what it smelled like.” The aroma would “waft and subside and waft and subside” as he spoke with her, pouring out his difficulties. He told Maria Esperanza about a strange dream—or a vision, he wasn’t sure—he had had.

“I woke up,” he said, “and saw a woman dressed in a white suit, holding a box. It was an illuminated box that was levitating. The woman said, ‘This is a gift. Our Lord Jesus wants you to have this.’ He told the woman ‘I’m afraid,’ and the vision disappeared. When he recounted this dream or vision to Maria Esperanza, she said, “You will be a teacher and you MUST trust the Lord.”

“As I processed my encounter with Maria and my strange dream,” Dan said, “I thought, The Lord is telling me in ways I can understand, that teaching is right for me, it is a gift.” Two months later, Dan landed a teaching job. And he has found great joy in teaching—and painting±ever since.

I never have been deeply drawn to the mystical side of the Catholic Church. But my thinking is, if I believe that God created the world (which I do) and sent his only Son to Earth to preach the truth and heal people (which I do) and that this Son rose from the dead and then returned to earth (which I do), it is not such a leap to believe that God could gift a human being with such charisma.

So I am grateful my Church takes seriously the possibility we might have mystics among us.

"Vaya con Dios, Leonard; Rest in Peace."

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  • Maria

    Nice Allison.. Thank you so much. I found this @–she repeated a motto that she had received through divine inspiration, which is now engraved on the coffin that contains her remains, “Humility is the crystal bridge that leads us to heaven.”

  • Allison Salerno

    @Maria. Thanks for reading. There is so much more to say about this woman. I am hoping some of the folks who worked and lived with her might somehow find this blog. Married to an Italian, Maria Esperanza was an acquaintance of Padre Pio's and some accounts talk about her visions of him and messages from him. Some accounts were only from one source so, trained journalist that I am, I did not include in the guest blog. This is why it is so good the Church has the canonization process; to sort out truth from legend.

  • Maria

    Apparently she received the stigmata right after Padre Pio died, I think. I am always heartened when a lay person is set upon the road, aren't you?

  • Until now I had never heard of this lady — I shall look further into her life and charisms. I really like what you wrote about the fact that the Church "won't MAKE (my emphasis) Maria Esperanza a saint:it will confirm, or not, that she already is." I have never thought about the canonization process in this light. This is a really compelling way to understand, and to explain to non-Catholics, this mysterious process. Thanks for another enlightening and thoughtful post Allison.

  • Allison Salerno

    Thanks mujerlatina. And what I have learned – late in life – from my parish priest – is what you can also explain to noncatholics. A saint is someone who is in heaven. The canonization process is the Church's way of checking into superholy people it knows about and saying yes this person is in heaven.But there are many many many unknown "unofficial" saints – folks we have lived with, known, admired etc. They could be one's deceased spouse, childhood priest, nextdoor neighbor, etc. Thus, the Communion of Saints.

  • Anonymous

    The life of faith in Christ is not an ordinary life. When we encounter His mystical presence in the sacrament. We encounter Him in manner that is natural to the senses but at the same time He is Supernatural. He is totally Other and yet intimately with us. As I read of the life of mystics such as Maria Esperanza what I am reminded of is the supernatural reality of our God. In our daily life God is ever present but hidden to the senses.For a mystic such as Pio or Esperanza, their minds are elevated by grace to "see" what the ordinary person of faith cannot perceive -just yet.After reading about Esperanza I wonder if we are not all called to "see" a bit more acutely for the "signs" of our very living God. We are so keen on the rational. And that is necessary. But God is not bound by the natural. And while we are grounded here in this reality, I feel that we need to sharpen our antenna towards the Supernatural presence of Our Lord.

  • Allison Salerno

    @Anonymous Wow. Thank you for your insights. This certainly is food for thought. I am glad to be part of a faith that finds a place for mystics.

  • Warren Jewell

    @Anonymous 7:50It is really vital that we remember always "Thou art God and I am not." When we humanize God, as if the Lord Jesus Christ in His humanity was somehow elevated, other than on His Cross, as the Person He is, we just cannot in humilty – that "crystal bridge" – decrease that He increase. His glory forever preceded all creation. 'Thou art Creator; we are Thy creatures, and adopted children of Thy flock.'Thank you for another wonderful article, Allison. I have to think that as we all find the Spirit giving us what He would have us share, Webster and Frank may have to add another blog site for their guests. I think that it is going to get crowded around here. :)Lenten blessings on blessings to all. Pray as if your whole life, complete person and all in all depends upon it.

  • When I was interviewed for this post, I was a bit hesitant. I did not express my inhibition to Allison. My hesitance was based upon the fact that mystical experience is not why I have faith. I ultimately have come to believe that my faith is a gift. It has been nurtured by many in my life, but all in all I appreciate it as a gift.I have been open to God's movements and "voice" and direction throughout my life.There are over 1 billion Catholics and I am sure that each of us has our own way of "seeing" and "hearing" God.In my case, I am fascinated by how God can operate within his people. I have no doubt that some individuals have the openness to appreciate God in ways that I cannot. And that is wonderful! As long as it is within what I feel is safely Catholic, I am eager to hear what anyone may share.I don't think many of us do much of that in our time. In past eras I think that there was more of an openness to the mystical.We are rational in this time.At any rate, my experience with Maria Esperanza afforded me a lesson to learn how intimately the Lord and Our Lady are working and moving in our time. It has infused my faith with a sense of energy and grace. I am more confident that He is truly here and that He is in charge.Like I stated earlier, I have been cautious with sharing such stories in the past. But today it is my feeling ( intuition) that it is better to be open with others who share our faith than to remain private.

  • @Daniel,Great comment. One of the reasons I converted to Catholicism is that I do not have all the answers, nor am I privy to all experiences. I was, and still am, amazed that many miracles such as those described here as well as the miracles that have surrounded many of the saints have for the most part occurred only to Catholics. Maybe everyone else is afraid to be called "crazy".As Allison writes, these events are not fast-tracked to approval but instead are methodically investigated. Having had a few brushes with minor miracles myself, I no longer doubt Church approved miracles.

  • Allison Salerno

    @Dan: That is an interesting point – we don't have faith BECAUSE of the mysticism, but the mystics can help confirm our faith. And of 1 billion Catholics in the world have at least 1 billion ways to experience God.I guess I see ordinary life as so terribly miraculous – not that you and others don't – but i guess that is why I never have been drawn to mystics. That said, I value your insights and experiences, Dan!

  • Thank you Frank!If I may comment further, I want to add that I believe that in the ordinary is the extraordinary. That's why I paint!!But your comment on the "brush " with the ineffable is in my opinion a part of how we shall be with God in Heaven. I feel that we are given glimpses of it in our current life here. They are special gifts which God is giving us in these times and in every time. It's all so amazing. I feel that God allows these encounters for a reason which flows from His inexhaustible love for us. These graces that shower us through the mingling with the supernatural in the natural order has invigorated my day to day life in such a manner as I can "see" more clearly albeit through the eyes of faith. The extraordinary is terrific but again I go back and reiterate with Allison as well, the most sublime moments with God are seen with faith in the everyday. The birth of my children, the love for my wife and the love for my work as an artist all fall within the daily ordinary/extraordinary. And at the same time, I remain open to whatever or however the Lord desires to move in this world. He is a God of surprises!

  • Allison Salerno

    @Dan: So well said. You just released your inner blogger. Go for it! I would love to hear about how painting draws you closer to your creator…

  • Anonymous

    @ Allison – Your posting was wonderful. I have actually heard of this woman before now. I've always had faith that miracles do exist. I don't believe that these people necessarily choose to be mystics. I think they are chosen, whether Catholic or not, to be the messenger for the Father. In this day and age rationalism has taken the place of faith with the belief that if *it*, the miracle or evidence of the divine, can't be proven through scientific means than *it* doesn't necessarily exist. As Westerners we've lost much of the belief in supernatural that had co-existed with religion for centuries. It's through this loss that people have become even more demanding of absolute proof but there are many out there who would doubt where Maria Esperanza's 'gifts' come from. I have no doubt that they were blessed to her from the Father, through Mary to Maria Esperanza herself.It's an interesting concept that we shouldn't humanize G-d lest we must decrease our own self to make sure Jesus is appropriately placed. Just a thought – if we are created in HIS likeness then doesn't HE already have human likeness? Wouldn't it be something to find out that HE has all HIS greatness, power and glory but that HE can laugh, smiles, tease and love just as we do with one another while still being the reigning All-that-there-is? A person can still have complete reverence to the Creator while still being able to approach HIM, otherwise how could one pray freely? I also must say that I find it interesting that the Catholic church has kept people in fold who could be considered more in the occult realm, such as, demonologists, mediums, and those who do exorcisms. I believe that the core of the Church has kept their beliefs in the supernatural throughout the years, just doing it quietly.