It’s “American Saints Week” at the Register.

Today we conclude our miniseries on sainthood causes of American men and women with a portrait of a Venezuelan woman who made her home in New Jersey. We also hear from an expert on saints about the importance of recognizing holiness in people of our time.

Maria Esperanza de Bianchini

The spiritual example of Maria Esperanza de Bianchini resonates with many people around the world.

The Venezuelan wife of Geo Bianchini, mother of seven and grandmother of 20, she spent a lot of time in the United States, including the last eight months of her life, and died in Long Beach Island, N.J., in 2004.

In addition to being a loving wife and mother, Maria was endowed with many spiritual gifts. Opening her cause in the Diocese of Metuchen, N. J., Bishop Paul Bootkoski mentioned among them the gifts of healing, discernment of spirits, visions, locutions, odor of sanctity, the stigmata and reading hearts.

In her early 20s, she visited St. Pio of Pietrelcina, who became her spiritual director. Later, because it was difficult to travel so far to San Giovanni Rotondo for regular spiritual direction, he referred her to a Jesuit in Rome, where she was living.

Maria became internationally known after the Blessed Mother appeared to her and 150 others on March 25, 1984, at a farm called Betania in Venezuela.

She was the principal visionary and was entrusted to spread the message of family reconciliation and fraternal unity given by the Blessed Mother, who appeared under the title “Mary, Virgin and Mother, Reconciler of All Peoples and Nations.”

In 1987, Bishop Pio Bello Ricardo of Los Teques declared the apparitions valid. He had consulted with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Receiving invitations from various dioceses, Maria made many trips abroad, especially to the United States. In 1994, she was invited to be a guest on Mother Angelica’s EWTN show. She had a private audience with John Paul II.

“Maria Esperanza’s primary mission was to promote the reconciliation of the human family in general and the nuclear family in particular,” explained Father Timothy Byerley, vice postulator of her cause. “Her beatification cause is especially relevant in this moment of global tension and family breakdown. I would also add that as a wife, mother and grandmother, she provides a much-needed model of lay sanctity for our age.”

Father Byerley sees her possible canonization as good for the Church today.

“It is no secret that in the United States the family has fallen on hard times,” he said. “So Maria Esperanza’s spirituality of family reconciliation is a prophetic impulse of grace for our times. She does not simply announce a message, but she also offers a spirituality of family unity and healing that is at once practical and profound.”

He points to the example of her own family, in addition to the legacy of the Betania Sanctuary and the Betania Foundation, which spreads her message around the world. (Nearly half of the current 16 Betania communities are in the U.S.)

Holiness Not Somethng of the Past

Over the past week, we’ve looked at new and ongoing causes of canonization in the United States. Matthew Bunson recognizes these new causes as providing much good for the Church in America. He is the author or co-author of 30 books, including Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints (2003) and John Paul II’s Book of Saints (OSV, 2007).

He is a member of the historical commission for the canonization cause of Russian émigré and U.S. pioneer priest Father Demetrius Gallitzin.

Bunson says the lives of Maria Esperanza and Fathers Ellacuria and Muzquiz reveal a reputation for holiness.

“In the time they lived, they touched so many lives, and the legacy of that is very clear,” he observed. “The fruits of their holiness continue to be seen after their deaths. People’s lives continue to be touched by the example of the heroic virtue of their lives.”

He also noted that these candidates demonstrate an important theme of Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate: Holiness is not something in the past.

“We are all called to holiness, regardless of our station in life or when we live,” said Bunson. “We are called through the perfection of the virtues to be a saint. There is no expiration date in history on this. All of this is as real and pressing and as possible today as it was 120 years ago, 300 years, 1,000 years ago.”

Bunson pointed out that Maria Esperanza died in 2004. She’s a contemporary relevant for our time — just like St. Gianna Molla.

“These are people who have lived within our own particular era,” he said, “and they are really powerful role models for us today.”
When people ask how anyone can be holy in a world with so much wickedness, a world that has forgotten God, these men and women demonstrate holiness is possible in today’s world, continued Bunson: “They have not forgotten God. They have what Benedict XVI calls ‘friendship with Christ.’ That is meaningful and attainable today.”

Finally, he observed that these candidates exemplify the universality of holiness which knows no international or national boundaries. Coming to our shores from a variety of countries, these prospective Servants of God left their legacies in the United States.

“How remarkable a story, as in the case of Maria Esperanza, who finds herself in New Jersey,” he said. “She did not have to change who she was or what she did or how she lived her life because she left Venezuela. She was clearly attempting to live a life of holiness everywhere she went. She proclaimed to all of us — and saints have proclaimed to all of us — that wherever you go in the world,  you continue to strive for holiness; you take holiness with you, and the universal truths and teachings of the Church are applicable everywhere you go.”

Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.