At Fatima, in 1917,Our Lady asked the children, and through them everybody else, to pray the Rosary for Peace. And she was seen by the three children, Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia.
At Betania in Venezuela, in 1976, she came announcing herself as the "Reconciler of all Peoples and all Nations." And she was seen by hundreds of people on numerous occasions.
The Church has always been slow to speak about apparitions of Our Lady and similar supernatural events, even after they have been approved. Before approval it is of course only right that they should not indulge in promoting any of these events. I used to think that even after a particular apparition had been approved they were still reluctant to talk about it much, just out of habit, or maybe a sense of being extremely conservative.
It may even be that some people of other religions see Our Lady as belonging exclusively to the Catholic Church, and because of that they want nothing to do with her. But in fact she is mother to everybody, regardless of race colour or religion. She has said that many times, not just once.
The apparitions at Betania in Venezuela are a good example of that. I would be fairly certain that way less than 10% of people in Australia, even 10% of Catholics in Australia, know anything at all about the events at Betania. And when it comes to Catholic School children, I'd guess that less than 1% know anything about it.
But the Betania events to my mind are probably just as important, indeed if not more so, than even Fatima and Lourdes.
That might seem like a strong statement to make, but let me tell you why.
The two greatest and most important prayers of the Church are firstly the Mass, and secondly the Rosary. The Mass has been called "the source and summit of the Christian life", and the Rosary has many times been declared to be second only to the Mass.
And at Betania supernatural events connected to both The Mass and the Rosary happened.
Our Lady had given several messages to Maria Esperanza over a period of years. One of those messages told her of a special place which she would find in North central Venezuela - a Holy Land which would ultimately become a place of constant prayer and pilgrimage for the Venezuelan people and eventually for all Nations of the World, so that all could hold hands in Reconciliation.
On 29th March 1974, Maria recognised the place from the descriptions Our Lady had given her - a farm, with an old house, a sugar mill, a sugar and coffee plantation with a grotto and a stream with crystal clear water. In messages many years before Our Lady had told Maria that when she found that special place, Our Lady would confirm it with a blue butterfly.
And indeed when she did recognise the place, a blue butterfly suddenly came out from the grotto area, and fluttered all over the place . The blue butterfly still appears on special Marian days, fluttering over the place and disappearing into the lush vegetation.
Two years later on March 25th 1976, she appeared for the first time at the farm, known as Finca Betania, under a new title, Mary Virgin and Mother Reconciler of People and Nations. She was seen then only by Maria Esperanza, but approx 80 other people present reported seeing something like a cloud coming out of the hill, luminous phenomena and movements of the sun. But in 1984 she was seen by 150 people, of all kinds, children, college students, adults, military people, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, engineers, judges etc. On that day she appeared seven times, each time for 5 to 10 minutes, except for the final apparition at dusk, which lasted for half an hour.
From that moment the Bishop of the diocese of Los Teques, in the state of Miranda in Venezuela, began a long and exhausting investigation, which ended with an official approval of the events.
I was advised some time ago by our own Bishop, to be very sure that whatever I wrote or spoke about Our Lady's apparitions etc was very true. So I wrote to the Venezuelan Bishop asking him was it true that he had approved of the events?
He approved of Finca Betania as a sacred place, which must be kept as a place for pilgrimages, prayer, reflection and worship, and he sent me a copy of his Pastoral letter.
The Sanctuary at Finca Betania is open all year round from 7.00am to 6.00pm. The Bishop also authorised seven Marian Feastdays as days when all night vigils are permitted.
Two of them I had never heard of, Our Lady of Candelaria and Our Lady of the Pillar.
So I looked them up on the Internet, and found details of those two titles of Our Lady, and another one - Our Lady of Coromoto - which is one of the ways she appears at different times.
How does she appear ?- you might ask.
In doing his investigations, Bishop Pio Bello interviewed something like 500 people taking written statements from them. Many said that she appears "out of nowhere - she just materialises, sometimes resembling Our Lady of Lourdes, with the blue sash, sometimes resembling Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of the Pillar, Our Lady of Coromoto, and many other well known Marian titles." At Fatima, too, she appeared in several different ways - firstly with St Joseph and the Divine Child - as the Holy family, secondly in the tableau of her Rosary and Scapular, and finally as Queen of Heaven and earth, garbed as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, holding her brown scapular towards the crowd, and with the infant Jesus on her knee.
She appears filled with light, most of the time accompanied by a strong and beautiful scent of Roses, and other mystical phenomena such as heavenly songs from an invisible choir, spinning of the sun, a profusion of flowers on the hill, etc.
In her first apparition there she had a pair of Rosary Beads on one arm.
And then there was the Eucharistic Miracle.
During the vigil Mass of 8th December 1991, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, Father Otty Ossa at Betania had just consecrated the Host when he noticed that a small red spot had appeared on portion of the divided Host. He watched in amazement as the red spot grew larger and began to flow just like blood from a wound.
Many people present at the Mass saw it and could not believe their eyes. Father Otty put the bleeding host into a monstrance, and showed it to all present, and it was video'd by one of the parishioners. Some of that amateur video is reproduced on the Betania Video "Betania - Land of Grace"
The host was later subjected to various scientific tests by the leading laboratory in Caracas - Venezuela's capital city - and their finding was that the red substance was human blood.
Once again, God had performed a miracle to confirm to all the doubters that He is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity, in the consecrated host.
So when you add up Mary's apparitions, holding Rosary Beads, her constant request that we pray the Rosary, and a further Eucharistic Miracle, you will see why I said that Betania may be even more important than Fatima or Lourdes.