About Maria Esperanza:
Maria Esperanza was born in 1928 in San Rafael in the state of Barrancas, Venezuela. At the early age of five, in the port city of Bolivar, she saw a smiling lady rising from the River Orinoco. The lady gave Maria a rose. She later realized that the mysterious lady was St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the "Little Flower".
This was the beginning of many mystical experiences that she would have throughout her life, including being visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was also visited by Saint Ignatius of Loyla, Saint Joseph, Anthony Mary Claret, Saint John Bosco and many others. One of her most frequent visitors was Mother Cabrini. Among the miracles she experienced was that of being healed from a serious illness.
In 1950 she visited the famous mystic: Saint Padre Pio. Maria Esperanza is shown in the photo above on the right (wearing the hat) as she greets pilgrims.
In 1954 she had a vision of a beautiful piece of land in native Venezuela that would become a place of prayer. A large blue butterfly would be one of the features of this area. On December 8, 1956, she married an Italian, Geo Bianchini. Some time after that, the Blessed Mother appeared to Maria and instructed her to purchase the farm shown to her in the vision, predicting that it would become a center of "constant prayer and pilgrimage" for all "the nations of the world". Mary introduced herself as "Reconciler of People and Nations".
Maria and her husband purchased the farm in 1974. Betania, which means Bethany in Spanish, is nothing more than a few buildings as well as Maria's family farm.
In 1976 the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary was reported. In 1984 she appeared to over 100 people at the grotto in Betania and soon afterwards the local bishop, Pio Bello Ricardo (shown in photo on the right) opened an investigation. After a 3-year investigation he gave his approval for the apparitions in 1987, declaring that they were authentic, supernatural and of divine nature. He recommended Betania as a place of pilgrimage. you could often find him among the crowds during one of the Feast Days outlined below.
Another unique experience that occasionally took place was the red rose that miraculously came out of her chest. This was an incredibly painful experience for Maria Esperanza and was witnessed by doctors, priests and lay people alike.
Here you see one of those miraculous events as witnessed by a group of pilgrims from the U.S. Each one of the pilgrims was given one of the rose petals by Maria. It was reported to have occurred over 15 times in her lifetime.
About the Shrine:
During Maria's lifetime, large crowds would descend on the grotto on 5 special feast days each year in hopes of seeing the Blessed Mother as well as in search of healing. It was said that one sign of Our Lady's presence was a large blue butterfly that would fly out of the jungle. Crowds gather in the evening of the dates below for the Vigil and spend the night:
February 1st Our Lady of Candelaria
March 24th Anniversary of the apparitions
May 12th Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
July 15 Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
August 14th Feast of the Assumption
October 11th Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar.
December 7th Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Mass is celebrated on the actual feast day.
Although Maria died on August 7, 2005, the shrine is still open. There are some pilgrimage groups still taking pilgrims to the Shrine. It should be noted that the shrine is an approved apparition site, but the mystic Maria Esperanza has not yet been approved. Currently an investigation is underway in preparation to presenting her cause for beatification.
Mass is celebrated on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m.; Sundays and feast days: 10:00 a.m., 12:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Priests who lead groups here may arrange Mass according to their own schedule.
The Shrine is located between Cua and San Casimiro, south of the capital of Caracas. Most people travel by taxi or bus from Caracas. There is no official website for the Shrine.
On January 31, 2010 the cause for her Beatification was opened, making her a Servant of Good, the first step in the process.
Near Betania is Los Teques, home to a Eucharistic Miracle.
1. Personal visits.
2. Interviews with Bishop Pio Bella Ricardo
(shown in photo at right)