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Cause for Canonization Opened for Venezuelan Seer

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist The Vatican has officially opened an investigation into the cause for sainthood of a popular Venezuelan mystic who allegedly received 31 apparitions of the Virgin Mary during her lifetime. Bishop Paul Bootkoski of the diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, officiated at a Mass and ceremony marking the opening of the cause for beatification and canonization of Maria Esperanza de Bianchini, a Venezuelan mother of six and alleged mystic who died in 2004 at the age of 75.  The ceremony is usually held in the diocese where the person died and although Maria lived in Venezuela, she spent the last eight months of her life in New Jersey where she died after a protracted illness.   "If you're attracted by miracle stories, that is a wonderful start,” said Father Timothy E. Byerley, the vice postulator in charge of her cause said in his homily. “But she teaches love, love between spouses, love of the family." In addition to receiving dozens of apparitions of Our lady, Maria was also endowed with the gift of healing, the gift of counsel, discernment of spirits, visions, locutions, ecstasies, levitation, the odor of sanctity, the stigmata (body marks resembling crucifixion wounds), and the ability to read the hearts of others. According to the biography of her life published by the diocese of Metuchen, she was born Maria Esperanza in Monagas State, Venezuela on Nov. 22, 1928, and is said to have exhibited a life of virtue and devotion to God from an early state. She was also endowed with special charisms such as supernatural knowledge, healings, visions and the ability to read the hearts of others. Her gifts and virtues attracted many followers. In 1954, she married Geo Bianchini and they had six daughters and one son. She and her husband raised their children in an exemplary manner, and she continued to use her spiritual gifts to assist souls and to form the consciences of all who sought her counsel. On March 25, 1984, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Maria Esperanza and 150 of her associates at a tropical farm named Betania, 50 miles south of Caracas. Our Lady manifested herself in Betania under the title, “Mary, Virgin and Mother, Reconciler of all Peoples and Nations.” These apparitions were approved in 1987 by the local bishop, Msgr. Pio Bello, in consultation with then- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005.) Church approval thrust Maria into the international limelight and she was required to make many trips abroad to announce Our Lady’s message of family reconciliation and fraternal unity. She visited the United States often, particularly New Jersey, where she spent the last eight months of her life. The ceremony, which was held on Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen, was attended by her family and 100 friends and relatives from Venezuela, as well as more than a 1,000 others. The overflow crowd had to be accommodated in a building next door where the ceremony was simulcast on a movie screen. Now that her cause has been opened, Maria will now be referred to as a Servant of God. After her heroic virtue has been proven, she will be declared “venerable.” Then, to be beatified, one miracle must be attributed to the her intercession. Finally, a second miracle will be needed for her canonization. © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®