My natural desire to meet the supernatural and allay my fear of death had, over time, been leading me to the places where it was said that the Virgin Mary appeared to human beings. In my life, I had visited quite a few Marian sanctuaries, a few of them by chance, others of my own free will.
A constant of all the sanctuaries I visited was that Our Lady had appeared to children or plain folk. This made me think about my way of searching for God. I read hundreds of books about enlightenment, meditation, religion, Holy Scripture, and so on. I don’t want to say that my work has turned out to be useless. Learning is better than ignorance, but definitely it is not enough to get close to God, because the path to God can only be covered by the soul and not the intellect. The soul doesn’t need learning, only purity of heart.
One day my wife said, “There’s another important sanctuary that you have not seen yet, called Banneux in Belgium.”
I really didn’t know about Our Lady of Banneux, even though I was always looking for holy places.
“We should go there,” I said. “And we’ll take the opportunity to visit Belgium, which is a small country, but rich in traditions.”
When we arrived in Brussels we found accommodations near downtown. What left me speechless was the view of the Grand Place, which is an architectural jewel. We visited all the tourist attractions in Brussels, and then we moved to Banneux by bus. It is a small village near the city of Liege.
Mariette was the first-born child of seven children. She went to school and catechism, but she didn’t make much progress because she didn’t have time to devote to study, as she had to help her mother in the daily chores. On the evening of January 15, 1933, she was looking out of the window, waiting for her brother who had not yet come home, when she saw a young, beautiful, shining lady in the garden.
“Mom!” she called. “I see a lady in the garden. She is the Holy Virgin.”
The apparition appeared eight times. The Virgin called herself “The Virgin of the Poor.” During the second sighting, Our Lady led Mariette to a spring, saying that it should be reserved for Herself and for all nations. As it had happened in other places where the Holy Mother appeared, she also recommended praying, and asked that a chapel should be built in the place where she appeared.
When we arrived in Banneux, the bus stopped next to a square. At the end of the square there was a street that led to the sanctuary. The atmosphere in Banneux was different from other Marian sanctuaries. It was much simpler and there weren’t many shops. We walked towards the chapel and found a water basin on the right, which was where little Mariette had dipped her hands. We too dipped our hands and drank some of the water.
After visiting the chapel, we walked through the woods that bound the water basin. While we were walking, I realized why Our Lady had called herself The Virgin of the Poor. We well-to-do people tend to underestimate the issue of poverty.
It is one of the most serious social problems. Here amid the woods of Banneux, in my mind I saw all the jobless, poor Sicilians that had migrated to Belgium to work in the coal mines after the end of the Second World War. Many of them died trapped underground, while those who survived contracted an illness called silicosis, which was a progressive disease caused by the inhalation of dust in mines.
My mind went to the immigrants that try to reach the Sicilian coast packed in precarious boats, which sometimes wrecked, causing the deaths of hundreds of people, whose only fault is to be poor and searching for a better place to live.
I recalled a butcher in Enna who had a large family. My father used to go to his shop to buy lamb at Easter. Over time, many butcher shops sprang up in Enna, so that butcher couldn’t match the competition and became poor. He took on debts to feed his family, hoping he would be able to pay them, but things didn’t go well. He fell into despair and couldn’t find a way out. One night he left his home and told his wife that he had to cut a few lambs’ throats, but things went differently. He pulled down the shutters in his shop, and instead of cutting lambs’ throats, he cut his own. The following day his blood still leaked through the chink of the shutter, flowing into the street.
There are many tragedies caused by poverty that we don’t know about. Sometimes, even when we know about them we ignore them instead of doing something to try to overcome the scourge of poverty.
Here, where Our Lady of the Poor appeared, I saw in my mind’s eye how many conflicts were sparked off by poverty. Indigence gives rise to social malaise, and then to a Mafia, terrorism, and war. It is not by chance that terrorists and members of the Mafia are recruited from the poorest classes.
We left Banneux and headed for Amsterdam. My wife wanted to visit the Van Gogh Museum, which contains an ample collection of his paintings. He was a genius, but also a very unlucky man who suffered from mental disorders. He was found dead at the age of thirty-seven from a gunshot wound that he likely fired himself.
This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind