BROTHER PAUL'S PRAYER FOR YOUR INTENTIONS
LORD You said, "Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you." And so I bring the petitions of all those in need throughout the world today to Your most Sacred Heart. I ask that You bless them and heal them in body, mind, and soul according to Your will. I ask that You be moved by these petitions as You were moved by the tears of Martha and Mary for their beloved brother Lazarus; as You were moved by Your Mother's request at the marriage ceremony at Cana; as You were moved by the faith of the Samaritan woman who believed she would be healed by touching the tassel of Your cloak. I thank You Lord for the many times when You have intervened in the past, especially on behalf of those gathered with us today, and I look forward with peace, hope, and joy to Your future coming for the conversion of souls.
JESUS Itrust in You.
JESUS Itrust in You.
JESUS Itrust in You.
SAINT FAUSTINA pray for us.
IN THE SUMMER of 1997 I was living a typical middle class life, married with four children -- two sons also married, two daughters in college -- and busy trying to make a success of a magazine publishing company I had started four years earlier.
Spiritually my wife and I were Sunday Catholics, raising our children in the church and attending mass weekly. We didn’t pray the rosary, weren’t involved in any prayer groups, never visited a shrine, and had little interest in becoming more spiritual. My own prayer life was limited to what could be said during the three minutes a day it took me to shower.
Then I met Maria Esperanza.
IT STARTED WITH a phone call out of the blue from a man I had never met named Ron Kyle. Ron introduced himself as a major record promoter involved with top artists and record companies and said that a mutual friend, Chris Gianinni, had mentioned my media company. He asked if I would like to have lunch and discuss doing business together. I agreed.
We set a date and I then told my business partner, Kurt Peters, about the meeting. Kurt was as interested as I was about this new opportunity.
On the scheduled day, I drove about 100 miles from our office in Mountainside, New Jersey to a restaurant near Cherry Hill, New Jersey to meet Ron and two other men.
After brief introductions, we sat down for lunch. One of the men began describing a project he was involved with, installing a home theater system in a yacht. I figured this was just small talk before we started discussing business, but it lasted almost 90 minutes, to the end of lunch. When the check came, Ron and his two friends got up and began to leave the restaurant. Not one word had been said about doing business with my company. I was furious!
As we walked down the stairs outside that restaurant, Ron put his arm around me, looked at me, and asked me if I had ever heard of Betania, Venezuela. Baffled, I told him that I had not.
"HAVE YOU EVER heard of a woman, her name is Maria Esperanza?” he asked. Again I said no.
“Well, Maria Esperanza is a very important person,” Ron said. “In fact, she had an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Betania, but what’s amazing is that the Catholic Church approved it. What do you think of that?”
“Why was he bringing this up?” I thought to myself. We hadn’t even talked about religion at lunch, and now he was asking me this crazy question. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what he was asking me.
“If you are asking me whether I believe in apparitions, the answer is ‘Yes,’” I said. “I believe in Fatima and Lourdes. But if you are asking me whether I believe that this woman saw the Blessed Mother, how would I know? Why are you asking me this?”
“Because she wants to meet you,” Ron said. “Maria is coming to the United States in about a month to give a talk at the University of Notre Dame, and she is going to stop in New Jersey. Would you be willing to meet with her?”
I thought he was crazy. I knew about Lourdes, Fatima, and even Medjugorje, but I had never heard of Betania or Maria Esperanza. Yet I felt compelled to agree. “Okay,” I said.
I LEFT THE RESTAURANT completely bewildered. I had just traveled an hour and a half to have a 90-minute nonsensical lunch discussion about a yacht, and then agreed to meet with a woman from Venezuela about whom I knew nothing.
I relayed all of this to my partner when I returned to the office.
Kurt is a lawyer with an impressive academic, athletic, and professional background. He attended Columbia University where he excelled academically and played baseball, breaking Lou Gehrig’s RBI record there. His religious life though, was less spectacular. Kurt was baptized a Methodist, but never attended church. He fell somewhere between an agnostic and atheist, leaning closer to the atheist side of the scale. He also had little interest in the Catholic Church, as his wife was a fallen-away Catholic who harbored real resentment toward the Church.
You can imagine Kurt’s reaction to my story. He laughed hysterically. “I can’t believe that this guy Ron got you to waste five hours of your time just to tell you about some woman who saw a ghost,” he said.
WE FORGOT ABOUT IT. I never even checked to see if there was a Betania or a Maria Esperanza.
The whole thing seemed silly yet, about a month later, Ron called again.
“Paul, Maria Esperanza is in town staying at the Short Hills Hilton Hotel,” he said. “She’d like to meet you on Thursday, would that be okay?”
I felt like I had stepped into “The Twilight Zone,” but I checked my calendar and told Ron I was available. He said he would call me Thursday morning to confirm the time and location at the hotel.
Kurt knew Ron had called and came into my office grinning, wanting to know what was up; he was very animated about the whole affair.
On Thursday morning at about 10, Kurt came into my office, asking if Ron had called yet. No, I told him, and he chuckled and left the office. This happened several times that day, as Ron never called. When we left the office that night, Kurt and I laughed about the whole thing and decided that Ron must be a little crazy.
Friday passed, and then Monday, without a call from Ron. On Tuesday morning though, Kurt walked into my office with a huge grin on his face.
“Ron’s on the phone,” he said.
Ron started by apologizing, saying that Maria Esperanza had had a problem with her heart and had to go to Morristown Hospital.
“As I was the only American, I had to accompany her, so that’s why I couldn’t call you,” he said. “But don’t worry, she’s okay.”
"SO WHAT?" I thought to myself. “I don’t even know if this person is real.”
Ron added that Maria had gone to Rome, but assured me that she would be back in ten days and definitely wanted to see me then. “Sure,” I said.
Kurt could barely contain his amusement when, ten days later, Ron called back.
It was a Friday when our magazine was scheduled to go to the printer -- the busiest day of the month for me since I was responsible for production.
“I don’t have any time for that nut job,” I told Kurt. “Get rid of him.”
“Don’t you even want to know what this woman wants?” he asked. “Why don’t you talk to Ron?”
I was angry. Not only did I have a crazy person on the phone determined to waste my time, but now my partner was a co-conspirator. After a few sharp words with Kurt, I picked up the phone.
“Maria Esperanza is here at the Short Hills Hilton, and she’d like to see you at noon,” Ron said. “Okay?”
MY ANSWER WAS short and sweet: “No.”
I explained that this was the day our magazine was due at the printer and I couldn’t afford the time.
“But you don’t know who this is,” Ron said.
Kurt joined him in badgering me to accept the invitation. “If you go, I’ll go with you and help you finish the magazine when we return,” he said.
I gave in.
“I have exactly 20 minutes that I can spend with you,” I told Ron. “Whatever this woman wants, it had better take 20 minutes or I’ll have to leave. Okay?”
KURT AND I walked into the lobby of the Short Hills Hilton at noon, and the only person there was Ron. Not again, I thought. After introducing Kurt, I reminded Ron that I was leaving in 20 minutes.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be here,” he said. “She’s from South America, and they have a different concept of time.”
As we waited in the lobby, I expected Ron to get to the point of the meeting and explain what it was Maria Esperanza wanted from me. Instead he started talking about some boy band he was promoting. Stunned, I interrupted him and reminded him again that I was leaving in less than 20 minutes.
Ron tried to reassure me, but continued to talk about the record promotion business, to Kurt’s growing amusement and curiosity.
At 12:20 p.m. I stood up and began to walk out of the hotel. Ron jumped up off the couch and grabbed me.
“Please give me a couple more minutes,” he said. “I’ll call Maria Esperanza on the house phone to see what’s happening.”
A FEW MINUTES LATER, a woman between 65 and 70 years old, dressed beautifully in a wool suit and a formal hat with a feather, walked into the lobby. Holding her hand was a tall gentleman dressed in a nice suit and tie, who I assumed was her husband, and standing on her other side was a young man, about 35 years old, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt.
Ron introduced me to them -- Maria Esperanza, her husband Mr. Geo, and their son-in-law Carlos. I couldn’t understand them at first, as they were speaking in Spanish. After a few confusing seconds, Carlos explained that Maria was inviting me to lunch.
Kurt had not been part of the introductions, lingering behind the group and signaling his interest in accepting the lunch invitation. I was furious, but finally decided to accept, thinking that if Kurt didn’t care about getting the magazine out, why should I?
We sat at a rectangular table -- Maria Esperanza at the head, Ron across from her, Geo to her left, and Carlos to her right. I sat between Geo and Ron, and Kurt -- who still had not been introduced -- sat between Ron and Carlos.
After we settled into our seats, Maria looked directly at me and started to speak, with Carlos translating.
“So what can I tell you?” she asked.
I WAS DUMBFOUNDED, since I was expecting her to tell me what she wanted. To make matters worse, everyone at the table was looking at me, waiting.
After a somewhat pregnant pause, I decided to ask her about her life. I figured she would go right to her “apparition,” since, as far as I knew, that was the most impressive part of her history.
“When I was three years old, my father died,” Maria said. “And when I turned five, my mother had to leave home to settle my father’s estate.” She explained that her father had had a trading business throughout the Caribbean.
“As I stood on the dock of the Orinoco River near my home (Barancas), I was crying because my mother was leaving me, and I was afraid she wouldn’t be coming back and I would be left alone.” (This occurred in 1933, in a fairly rural area of Venezuela, about eight hours from Caracas. In those days, it was not unusual for someone to leave by boat and never return.)
Maria continued. “As I was looking out onto the river, all of a sudden St. Therese, the Little Flower, arose out of the water. She was carrying a bouquet of roses, and she smiled at me.” Maria then added that St. Therese told her not to be sad, because her mother would return safely.
Maria also said that somehow a beautiful rose came into her hand. She wasn’t sure if St. Therese threw it to her and she caught it, or it just materialized in her hand.
“It was such a shock to see St. Therese, I just don’t know how it happened,” Maria said. “But St. Therese told me to give the rose to my mother, and so I did. That was my first mystical experience, when I was only five years old.”
AT THAT POINT, although the story was somewhat unusual, I wasn’t very interested. I really didn’t know what any of this had to do with me.
Maria moved on with her story. “When I turned 12, I contracted pneumonia and had to be hospitalized,” she said. This would have been in 1940 in the outback of Venezuela, where they didn’t really have the drugs to effectively combat the disease.
“I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and I was very, very sick,” she said. “I felt that I was dying. One day I was so sick that I prayed to the Blessed Mother, ‘Mother, either cure me or take me to heaven, but don’t leave me like this.’ At that point the Blessed Mother appeared to me, and I recovered from the disease. That was my second mystical experience.”
I looked at my watch. It was already 1:40 p.m., “She’s up to age twelve, and she’s about seventy years old,” I thought to myself. “I’ll be here until 5 o’clock tonight.”
I told Maria that it wasn’t necessary for her to tell her whole life story. “Eat your soup,” I said. “It’s getting cold.”
With a stern look, Maria pointed her finger at me. “Oh no, we have a lot to talk about,” she said.
With that, she stood up and walked away from the table.
Everyone at the table stared as Maria left, surprised by her unannounced exit. I was embarrassed, unsure if I’d been disrespectful, but still hoping to finish my magazine that day.
When Maria returned to the table, she looked directly at Kurt, who up to this point had not been part of the conversation. Maria’s face lit up and she started to chuckle.
“You are very smart, but you are very young,” she said. Mr. Geo and Carlos began to laugh. I didn’t understand why until I realized that Carlos had made a translation error. When he said “young” he really meant “immature.” I laughed then too, because her description of Kurt was accurate.
Then Maria turned toward me. I expected her to continue poking fun, but her whole face had changed. Now she was deadly serious, her eyes filled with tears.
“Today is a blessed day in your life,” she said, “because if you didn’t come here today, you would have died!”
NO ONE WAS LAUGHING anymore. But, although a bit shocked by Maria’s comment, I wasn’t necessarily concerned. After all, I still didn’t really appreciate who Maria Esperanza was.
Looking at me, Maria continued.
“You know, you have been experiencing a great deal of stress in you life,” she said, “and that stress is killing you. It would have killed you if you didn’t come here today.”
Maria was right; there had been plenty of stress over the five preceding years. My daughter Angela nearly died of a very strange medical condition in which her stomach became paralyzed. And if that wasn’t enough, a mobster had taken over my prior company and I had to testify against him in a grand jury proceeding.
Maria then began to detail all the symptoms of heart disease that I’d been experiencing. Some of those details were so intimate that even my wife didn’t know about them.
I was stunned. I didn’t respond to her, but everything she said was true. It was as if she was reading my medical chart and knew my family history.
I had been seeing a cardiologist for a type of angina I’d been having. My father had suffered his first heart attack in his mid-40's, and later died of heart disease. I had also lost five aunts and uncles on both sides of my family to heart disease -- all before reaching the age of 52 -- and I was 49 at the time.
Maria finished describing my heart ailments and then looked at me. “I am going to relieve you of this problem right now,” she said. She then extended her arm in my direction, and moved it from left to right. “It’s taken care of,” she said.
I didn’t know what to think, but I didn’t feel any different and was still anxious to get back to the office.
Maria then asked me if I prayed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I said no. “From now on, whenever you pray, I want you to pray to the Sacred Heart,” she said, “because if you do, our Lord will give you whatever you ask of Him.”
THIS GOT MY ATTENTION. Maria hadn’t equivocated. And this was a statement I could verify. If I prayed to the Sacred Heart for something and received it, I could more believe Maria Esperanza.
Maria then shifted her glance from my eyes and began to focus on something just behind me and over my head. For several seconds she squinted and shifted her position in her chair. “I see a tall spirit standing behind you,” she said.
“Great,” I thought to myself, “now we’re going to have a séance right in the middle of the dining room at the Short Hills Hilton Hotel.”
“He’s always with you, and is always helping you,” she said. She described in great detail the physical attributes and personality of this “spirit,” and I realized it was my father, who had died almost four years before. Neither Maria nor anyone connected with her had any reason to know this.
Carlos translated Maria as saying, “St. Joseph,” but Maria quickly corrected him and said, “No, not saint,” indicating that the spirit’s name was Joseph - my deceased father’s name.
When I looked at Kurt’s reaction, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Kurt’s face was white and his eyes were opened wide and filled with tears. His mouth was trembling, as he was having a difficult time controlling his emotion. He looked into my eyes, leaned across the table in my direction and said, “Paul, I see Joe standing behind you!”
I WAS SO SHOCKED that I didn’t even turn around to see if I could see my father. I thought to myself: “Here is the most skeptical person I have ever met, an agnostic-atheist, crying in a public restaurant, telling me that he has seen my dead father standing behind me.”
Maria then began rubbing her left leg, grimacing in pain. “What happened to your left leg or left foot when you were 15 years old?” she asked.
I was still in shock over Kurt seeing my father and couldn’t think of anything. Maria told me to keep thinking.
After a few minutes, I still couldn’t think of anything and told Maria that I just didn’t know what she was talking about. She then became very aggressive and tapped on the table.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “You cannot leave here today until you tell me what happened to your left leg or left foot when you were 15 years old.”
I put my head in my hands and tried to focus on my life at age 15. After struggling to regain my composure, I began to reconstruct my life at that time. Where was I living? What was I doing?
TEN MINUTES LATER, I remembered that I was playing football and, after practice one day, we were fooling around in the gym playing basketball in our football uniforms. At some point someone knocked into me and I came down on the top of my left foot. My foot was destroyed. I was on crutches for three months.
I told Maria the story and she shook her head. “Jesus himself interceded for you that day, or you would have been crippled for life,” she said. “But there is something else wrong with your foot.”
I then remembered that, in 1972 while in the Army, I had been designated a disabled veteran because of my left foot, and have been ever since. For thirty years I’d experienced daily pain in this foot.
Maria then told me that she was going to heal me of this problem and stood up at the end of the table. She struck the table with her two hands and told me to stand up.
I stood up. “You are healed,” she said.
By this point I had been sitting for over two hours, so I wasn’t experiencing any pain in my foot anyway, but felt that nothing had changed.
Maria returned to her seat.
NEXT, SHE CLUTCHED her right leg and began to cry. “I see an old woman in your life and she can’t walk,” she said. She began to drag her leg as if she needed to do so in order to walk. “I’m not sure if this is a person or a spirit, but I can see that this is causing you a great deal of stress.”
“That is my mother,” I said. “She has a sciatic nerve problem in her right leg, and she can’t walk.”
“I am going to relieve you of this stress,” Maria said, looking at me. She then extended her right hand, moved it from left to right. “It’s taken care of,” she said.
My mother wasn’t there so I couldn’t confirm her words, but I accepted them at face value. Maria then stood up and approached me with her hands extended.
I stood up to be respectful and placed my hands in hers. I was surprised by how strong her hands were; it felt like she was crushing mine when she squeezed them. She then pulled me directly against her.
As soon as I came in contact with her, I couldn’t see anything in the room other than a wall of colored lights.
“I want you to tell your mother that, when she dies, I will be your mother forever,” she said. I was shocked, but Kurt was even more so. He began to cry out loud, thinking my mother was going to die that day or the next.
Although I heard Kurt, I couldn’t see him because I was in a sort of ecstatic state. I realized that, although it was Maria’s voice, it was really the Blessed Mother speaking to me! I was overwhelmed with emotion. Then, Maria let me go.
As soon as she released my hands, I could see everything again. Kurt was still whimpering and I was in complete shock. She returned to her seat.
“Paul, you have tremendous faith,” Maria said.
“Everything that has happened to you in your life has been to prepare you for this day,” she added. “ From this day forward, you will see things clearly that other people can’t see, and people will begin to follow you. Sometimes when you are in a crowd, you will notice someone staring at you. They will see Jesus because you will become an apostle of Christ and save thousands of souls!”
She then got up and left.
I WAS STILL IN SHOCK over the many things that happened, so I really didn’t understand what Maria had just said. How would I save other people? What could I say to them?
Later that day, I told the story to my mother and my wife. When I got to the part about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, my mother nearly jumped off the couch. “Do you remember that we had a picture of the Sacred Heart in the hallway of our house when you were growing up?” she asked. I said no.
“Did you ever take a close look at it?” Again, I said no.
My mother continued. “If you looked at it carefully, you would have noticed that your father pledged our family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus when you were a little boy,” she said.
She then asked if I remembered seeing it in their new house. I did not.
“After your father died, I packed that picture of the Sacred Heart along with all my other possessions,” she said. “And when I moved into your house, I didn’t see any religious pictures and felt funny about asking if I could put it up. So I left it packed up with some other things and it’s been in your basement for four years. But guess where it is now?”
“Where?” I asked.
“It’s on my bed. I decided to put it up in my room today!”
I was in shock. Again.
THE NEXT MORNING, I got out of bed, went into the bathroom, and then suddenly realized that for the first time in nearly 30 years, I didn’t have any pain in my left foot.
After showering and getting dressed, I went down to the kitchen to get some juice. There was my mother, walking around the kitchen!
And two days later, I went to the cardiologist’s office for a battery of tests and learned soon after that everything was okay with my heart.
Although other things occurred on that day I met Maria Esperanza, these are the most important. Many more were to happen over my time with her in the years that followed.