Dr. Juan Hervás Palazón
Juan A. Hervás Palazón is a medical physician, university professor and specialist in pediatrics. He has developed his professional life in the United States (Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School) and in Spain (Valencian Community and Mallorca), where he has been the head of the Pediatric Department in two hospitals. He has recently retired.
Juan, why does a doctor believe in the apparitions of Garbandal?
Well, to believe in something, you have to be familiar with it. Twenty-five years ago I was fortunate to have heard about the apparitions of Garabandal from a priest and a bishop who were both from Mallorca: Fr. Miguel Lliteras and Bishop Damián Nicolau. They were both convinced that the apparitions were true.
I spent a week in Garabandal with Fr. Lliteras at Conchita’s brother’s home—Conchita was the main visionary of the apparitions. Listenting to what her brother told us, reading about everything written about Garabandal, and meeting other eye witnesses of the events, I became convinced that the phenomena did not have a natural explanation and that it could only be explained from a supernatural point of view.
What really happened there?
To sum up, what happened was the following: from 1961 to 1965 four girls (between the ages of 11 and 12) assisted at more than 2000 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a remote, mountainous village in northern Spain, in the Cantabrian part of the Picos de Europa, or “Peaks of Europe.” I closely read the medical reports about everything from the pediatrician of Santander, Dr. Celestino Ortiz and the Catalonian psychiatrist, Dr. Puncernau, while also having the reports of other doctors who evaluated the girls. They all coincided in pointing out that the girls were normal, that they did not have any psychiatric pathology of any kind, and that what they observed did not have any natural explanation.
The girls went into ecstasy simultaneously, even when they were in different places. They began with an abrupt hyperextension of the head and had ocular and skin anesthesia (they did not notice lights being shined in their eyes, pintches, skin burnings, etc.); they became stiff and their bodily weight increased inexplicably (four people were unable to move them); the laws of gravity ceased to exist and they levitated or took on postures with anti-gravitational movements that were absolutely impossible; they seemed to race in ecstasy at an incredible velocity without sweating or increasing their heart rate; they went forwards and backwards, on foot or kneeling, going up and down the mountain (they went backwards down the mountain, which is humanly impossible); and eyewitnesses indicated that even under heavy rain they were not wet while they were in ecstasy. Moreover, the girls demonstrated other absolutely inexplicable phenomena, among which may be noted: knowledge of the thoughts or life of people, being able to recognize people (priested dressed as seculars, unmarried couples, etc.) or objects already kissed by the Virgin Mary, in addition to returning to each person their rosary or wedding rings kissed by the Virgin Mary without ever confusing them, without looking, and without previously being able to know whose they were.
Why, then, were the apparitions not approved by the Church?
We must say that the apparitions of Garabandal have never been condemned by the Church. As a matter of fact, they are open to later studies under the term “not confirmed to be of supernatural origin,” an expression which means “we do not know at the current moment.” Many other apparitions have been in this situation until they were finally approved. When the apparitions began, the Bishop of Santander named a psychiatrist, Dr. Luis Morales, aided by another doctor (Dr. Piñal), for what we could call an attempt to form a study commission. Nevertheless, both Dr. Morales and Dr. Piñal did not fulfill their responsibility. They went to the village very few times (less than five) and said that it was a girls’ game, without relying on the doctors’ reports who really studied them. Years later, specifically in 1983, Dr. Morales publicly retracted and said that his report was all a lie in a conference he gave at the Ateneo of Santander.
The number of contemporary saints and blesseds that believed in Garabandal has always drawn my attention, and they have been absolutely documented: Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Esperanza, Mother Maravillas of Jesus, John Paul II, and others who are currently in the process of being beatified like Fr. Nieto, Marta Robin, or Fr. Gobbi. We have also known that St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, went up to Garabandal on three occasions in the summer of 1962.
But above all, it is well known that Pope Paul VI was very interested in the apparitions, which he knew about through Fr. Laffineur, and that he called Conchita to the Vatican where she went with Fr. Luna. Once there, he said, “Conchita, I bless you and with me the entire Church.” Paul VI, during an audience with the Jesuit priest, Fr. Escalada, concerning the apparitions of Garabandal said: “It is the most beautiful story of humanity since the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is like the second life of the Most Holy Virgin on earth and there are not enough words to give thanks.” On several occasions, both Paul VI and John Paul II, when asked if the apparitions could be made known publicly, said, “Make them known.” The truth of this information is absolutely confirmed.
Nonetheless, if the support of the Popes concerning supposed apparitions is important, the approval of them necessarily passes through the local bishop, and the ordinary’s decision usually receives the posterior approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and finally the ratification of the Pope.
Garabandal’s case is, therefore, in a situation of waiting for new studies or events and, in my opinion, it will continue as such until the prophetic part is confirmed in relation to the future warning and miracle.
What happened to the girls as they got older?
All of them got married. Three went to live in the US when they got married to Americans, and one lives in Spain. It should be noted that the visionaries have all been humble and pious woman, faithful to the Church and what the Bishop of Santander has requested of them. The few times they spoke during the eighties was with the permission of the Bishop of Santander, Bishop Val, and they have lived a hidden life dedicated to their families. Today, three of them are still alive.
With what intention did the Virgin Mary appear in Garbandal?
The Virgin Mary in Garabandal showed herself as Our Mother concerned about us, her children: “Speak to me about my children,” and “Tell my children,” are frequent words in her conversations with the girls. What also stands out is her maternity in the words of the Hail Mary which she taught the girls: “Holy Mary, Mother of God and Our Mother,” and that we, who love these apparitions of the Virgin Mary, so like to recite in the Holy Rosary. Equally amazing in these apparitions is the Virgin Mary’s very human manner of treating the girls, and it is surprising (and perhaps scandalizing for some) that she even played with them, just like an earthly mother would, and that she was concerned about everything that had to do with them and those who lived in or visited the village. These apparitions have unique aspects in the history of Marian apparitions.
Nonetheless, the Virgin came to Garabandal to give a message to the whole world. Our Lady of Garabandal gave two messages and they are the following:
The first message of October 18, 1961:
“We must make many sacrifices, do much penance, and visit the Blessed Sacrament frequently. But first, we must lead good lives. If we do not, a chastisement will befall us. The cup is already filling up, and if we do not change, a very great chastisement will come upon us.”
The second message of June 18, 1965 (through St. Michael the Archangel since it was hard for her to do it):
“As my message of October 18 has not been fulfilled and has not been made known to the world, I tell you that this is my last message. Before, the cup was filling up. Now, it is overflowing. Many cardinals, many bishops, and many priests are on the road to perdition and are taking many souls with them. Less and less importance is being given to the Eucharist. You should turn the wrath of God away from yourselves by your efforts. If you ask for His forgiveness with sincere hearts, He will forgive you. I, your Mother, through the intercession of Saint Michael the Archangel, ask you to amend your lives. You are now receiving the last warnings. I love you very much and do not want your condemnation. Pray to us with sincerity, and we will grant your requests. You should make more sacrifices. Meditate on the Passion of Jesus.”
To sum up, the apparitions of Garabandal are meant to remind us about the following aspects of the Church’s doctrine: the Virgin Mary is Our Mother (“I am your Mother”), to believe in God and love Him, to be good, to repent of sin and do penance, to frequently visit the Blessed Sacrament; that is, to place Jesus (the Eucharist) in the center of our life, and that we should meditate on the Jesus’ Passion. In these apparitions, the Virgin Mary also said something that many did not like and that indeed was difficult to understand at the time. She said, “Priests, Bishops, and Cardinals are on the road to perdition and are taking many souls with them.” It seems very improbable to me that some twelve-year-old girls in a remote place of rural Spain in the sixties could invent something like that, but today we can see how the statement had been totally prophetic if we analyze the current situation of the Church. The Virgin Mary also said that the world would receive a warning of the existence of God, and after, a miracle would occur in Garabandal in which the sick would be cured and sinners converted, and that if we do not change, a chastisement will come.
What benefits can we have if we believe in the apparitions?
For me, specifically, the greatest effect that has taken place has been an increase in my love for the Virgin Mary, and with it, drawing closer to and a greater love for God. Knowing that I am not an orphan, that I have a Mother who loves me and takes care of me, has brought me great joy and great hope. A young 36-year-old priest, Fr. Luis María Andreu, saw the Virgin Mary one day at the beginning of the apparitions, and that same night, when he left the village in the car he said, “How lucky we are to have such a good Mother in heaven. Today is the happiest day of my life.” And saying that, he died. He did not have any known illness, nor did he show any sign to make you think it was a heart attack. I also believe that Fr. Andreu died of pure happiness.