Banneux is another small village in French-speaking Belgium. It’s 50 miles north of Beauraing, a quick drive by car. However the two towns are under two different bishops. Banneux is in Liege diocese. Beauraing is in Namur diocese. Banneux is so small that even today it doesn’t have a train station. In 1933 the Beco family was living in a modest house built by the father of the family, Julien, on the edge of town. These events begin only six weeks after the final vision of Beauraing. We’re still deep in the Great Depression. Julien is an unemployed wire maker with seven children to feed. Most of their food comes from their little vegetable garden.
Julien and Louise Beco, though cradle Catholics, had long abandoned the practice of the Faith. Mr. Beco was regarded as an honest man, a bit rough-spoken, and one who cared little what anyone thought of him. His wife Louise was a simple peasant woman, but humble and hard-working. The Beco’s oldest child, Mariette, was eleven years-old that January. She would turn twelve on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. She rarely attended school, and never went to Church. All her spare time was spent in helping her mother with the tasks of the household and looking after her younger siblings. She was very forward in manner and bold in speech. She had a reputation for always speaking the truth, like her father, caring little what others thought of her.
The ground floor of the small, two-story house consisted of a kitchen–living room area and one very small bedroom. Upstairs were two more small bedrooms. On Sunday night, January 15, 1933, Mariette was downstairs with her mother, who was tending the baby, while Mariette watched another child who lay sick in his crib. Mr. Beco had dozed off in the back of the room. There is snow on the ground. It’s 7:00 pm and Mariette is concerned for her ten year-old brother Julien who should have been home a lot earlier. She kneels on the bench under the living-room window and pulls aside the bedsheet serving as a curtain. This detail really struck me. When I was in France, all the houses I saw had French windows and no matter how modest the home, French windows had to have lace curtains. I suspect it wasn’t much different in Belgium. A bedsheet for a curtain is a sign of near desperation.
Similarities with Lourdes
Outside the window is a vegetable garden but nothing is in bloom of course. A wire and wood-staked fence separates the little garden from the road. Standing just a few feet away from the window, in the middle of an onion patch, was the luminous figure of a beautiful young woman. Startled, Mariette thought that her oil lamp must be playing tricks on the frosty windowpane, so she moves the lamp away , but the Woman remains there and now she smiles at Mariette. (Notice, Mary appears as a New Eve in a Garden, but standing in an onion patch. The French have an expression “row of onions” which corresponds to our “packed like sardines”. The Becos have a large family packed into a small house, and this little garden is their life support. Mary is smiling on this struggling family, even though they have neglected the Lord and are relying on themselves instead of God.)
“Mother!” Mariette cried out, “A most beautiful Lady, shining with light, is standing in our garden!”
Louise Beco laughed scoffingly: “Oh, perhaps it’s the Blessed Virgin!”
Mariette began to describe the lady in almost the same terms as Bernadette had seen Mary in the grotto in 1858, seventy-five years before:
small in stature
blue sash, with the streamers ending above the right knee
a nearly-transparent veil
hands joined together in prayer
a gold colored rosary hung from her right hand
a gold colored rose on her bare foot
Here in Banneux only one foot is visible and Mary’s head is inclined a bit to the left. Mariette insisted that her mother come and look for herself. Louise was surprised to see a luminous form of human shape in the garden, but it was quite vague. “It is a witch!” Mrs. Beco exclaimed, leaping away and dropping the sheet over the window. But Mariette looked out again and gazed at the luminous visitor. “It really is our Lady! She is smiling at me! She is so beautiful!” Mariette ran to get a string rosary she had recently found in the road. At the window she prayed two or three decades, then the Lady beckoned with her finger for Mariette to come outside. Mariette dropped the curtain and begged her mother to let her go out and meet the Lady. Mrs. Beco refused and locked the front door. Mariette returned to the window. The Lady was gone.
Her brother Julian arrives and calls his sister a fool when he hears the story. The next day the father tells Mariette she’s crazy. However, when his wife admitted that she had seen something Julien will go to great trouble Monday evening to perform experiments with a lamp to illuminate the garden, but the beam always hits the road instead of the garden.
On Monday morning Mariette surprised everyone by going to school for the first time in two months. She had quit school after she failed her First Communion examination three times. A great change began to come over Mariette. She who had previously been rather unruly, much given to playing truant and neglecting her lessons will henceforth prepare her schoolwork thoroughly, and each morning she’ll go early to church to pray. Mariette confided the story to her best friend, Josephine Leonard, who only laughed. This upset Mariette. Josephine was impressed by that reaction. So Josephine insisted that Mariette tell the parish priest of Banneux, Father Louis Jamin. After school Josephine brought Mariette to Father Jamin but Mariette was tongue-tied so Josephine proceeded to announce that Mariette had seen “the Blessed Virgin” the night before. Mariette completely lost her nerve at this declaration and fled the scene. Did the girls know about the recent apparitions at Beauraing? Fr. Jamin said to Josephine: “Mariette probably heard about the children of Beauraing and now believes that she has also seen our Lady.” Josephine found Mariette and told her what the priest had said. Mariette burst into tears, declaring that she was certain about what she saw.
Fr. Jamin had been praying for this family who had not been to church in a long time. He had recently asked Mary to bring them back. Fr. Louis Jamin would become a hero in the not-too-distant World War II, risking arrest and concentration camps to hide Jews. His name is reverenced by Jews today [see The Righteous Among The Nations — http://db.yadvashem.org/righteous/family.html?language=en&itemId=4042527]. Betty Garfinkles testified that Father Louis Jamin personally hid her for awhile. Was she a child or did she pretend to be his housekeeper? The details are probably in the book. Like the pastors at Pontmain, and at Knock, this priest is a man of prayer, open to the Holy Spirit.
On Tuesday, Mariette applied herself with great determination to her studies, particularly her Catechism and on Wednesday Fr. Jamin was surprised to see her at the morning Mass. On Wednesday evening, after her chores, despite her fear of the dark and the twelve degree Fahrenheit temperature, Mariette, went outside and knelt down in the garden to pray her Rosary. She doesn’t know that her dad was watching her. Suddenly Mariette stretched out her arms. The Blessed Virgin Mary was in the distance, in the sky above the woods. Mary gradually comes closer, and stands on what Mariette described as a platform of smoke. They are close to one another as they face one another. Mariette is still praying. Our Lady also appears to be praying, moving her lips silently. After about twenty minutes the Blessed Mother beckons Mariette to follow her. At this point her father jumps on his bicycle to look for Father Jamin. Unable to find him, Julien brings back a neighbor, Michael Charlesche, and Charlesche’s son who was about the same age as Mariette.
The three arrive as Mariette is walking down the road in their direction. Obeying the Blessed Virgin, Mariette Beco stops three times to kneel on the snowy road to pray for a few moments. They come to a small roadside stream. The holy Virgin stands above the edge of the road and Mariette kneels down beside the icy stream. Mary says:
“Plunge your hands into the water”.
Mariette does so. Then Mary said: “This stream is set aside for me.” She bade farewell:
Bon soir, au revoir! (Good night, we’ll meet again!)
While She rose into the air She continued to look at Mariette. Then She disappeared.
Mariette returned home, went to bed and fell asleep. Father Jamin arrived and listened to the men and the boy. Julien, a lapsed Catholic, was very excited and told the priest that he was certain his daughter was having visions of the Blessed Virgin. He made an appointment at the confessional for the following day and expressed his desire to return to the Church.
The next day, Father Jamin contacted the Bishop of Liege. Here we have another hero-to-be. On July 6, 1981, in a special ceremony in Jerusalem, the Yad Vashem recognized Bishop Louis Kerkhofs as “Righteous Among the Nations.” Bishop Kerkhofs will be the Bishop of Liège throughout World War II. [I’ve modified this website excerpt for brevity]
He used his considerable authority and prestige to urge the clerics in his diocese to lend a hand to save Jews from deportation. Many cases of people involved in rescue that are documented in this book are a direct result of his intervention. Thus for instance, Father Hubert Celis, in Halmaal, Limburg province, relates that he was influenced by Bishop Kerkhofs’ appeal to help Jews, which resulted in the sheltering of a Jewish family in his parish, an endeavor in which his whole family took part. . . . The Banneux monastery afforded a roof to a large number of fleeing Jews. Other monasteries and Catholic seminaries spontaneously followed suit, including the Benedictine monks. . . and other religious institutions. In July 1942, Bishop Kerkhofs was personally involved in securing a safe hiding place for Jewish cantor Joseph Lepkifker, and his wife, and their two sons in the bishopric; the wife was then transferred to a convent where the mother superior was a cousin of the bishop. When Lepkifker’s parents were arrested and deported, Bishop Kerkhofs took Mrs. Lepkifker in his own car to a safer location in a small convent in Liège where she stayed until the country’s liberation. In this rescue operation, Bishop Kerkhofs worked closely with Fathers Emile Boufflette and Joseph Peeters
These two priests helped obtain false credentials for many Jews and were eventually arrested and sent to concentration camps. Fr Emile Boufflette, died March 1945 at the age of thirty-three, and Fr. Joseph Peeters was executed in August 1943, although Bishop Kerkhofs and Cardinal VanRoey used all their authority with the government to try to intervene. Another priest Father Jacques Jacobs was liberated from a concentration camp by the Americans in 1944. According to Leon Papeleux, who made a special study of it, the Kerkhofs–Van den Berg rescue network was credited with the saving of 229 Jews, eighty of them children.
Father Jamin proceeded to consult a number of persons and ask them to observe the Beco family and report anything further that might take place. The next evening about 7pm, Thursday January 19th, Mariette puts on her father’s old overcoat and goes out to the garden. Witnesses gather round. She knelt down in the snow to pray. After a couple of minutes, she stretched out her hands and cried out: “There She is!” Respectfully she asked: “Who are you madame?” The Lady replied,
“I am the Virgin of the Poor.”
Then once more Mary led Mariette along the same path to the stream, stopping twice to kneel and pray. Mariette said to her: “Last evening you said; “This stream is set aside for me. Why “for me”?” The Lady laughed gently, then, smiling beautifully, She answered:
“This spring is for all nations. To relieve the sick. I will pray for you. Au revoir.”
When She finished speaking, She disappeared. Mariette Beco spontaneously repeated these words with a very clear voice then said: “Merci! Merci! (Thank you! Thank You!)”
The fourth apparition: On Friday the 20th of January, Mariette is not very well, but this does not prevent her from going outside at 7 pm. She begins to pray the Rosary and after a few moments calls out: “Here She is!” “Beautiful Lady, what are your wishes?” The Blessed Virgin replied:
“I would like a small chapel built.”
She then spread out her arms horizontally, but without moving them from away from her body. With her right hand She made the Sign of the Cross in the air over Mariette. Mariette fainted. Her father and their neighbor carried Mariette into the house where she quickly regained consciousness, told what had happened then went to sleep peacefully.
The Virgin did not return for several weeks, and Mariette was teased and taunted for her credulity. Mariette continued to pray the Rosary in the garden, night after night from the 21st of January until the 11th of February. waiting for the Lady who had said Au revoir. Her family tried to discourage her from getting her hopes up but Mariette was certain she would see her again because the Lady had always parted from her after saying Au revoir (“until we meet again”) rather than Adieu (“go with God”). Some nights her father or other friends would join her, but in severe cold she would kneel alone.
On February 11th, the Feast of Lourdes, Mary returns. Near the end of the second Rosary, the people see Mariette stand up and kneel down at the familiar places along the road as she walks with Mary toward the stream. Mariette dips her hands into the water and made the Sign of the Cross. Our Lady said:
“I have come to relieve the suffering. Au revoir!”
Mary disappeared as usual above the pine trees. Mariette stood up, ran towards the house and wept. She didn’t understand the meaning of the words “to relieve.” And no one in that crowd suspected the suffering of a war that would break out six years later. By the time the war began, Belgians would know all about this spring and where to find comfort. Later Mariette told Father Jamin: “It would be pleasing to the Lady for me to make my First Communion.” He tells her to ask her for a sign.
Sixth apparition–Wednesday the 15th of February.
This time Mariette is in the garden with her mother. While they pray the Rosary the Virgin appears. Mariette says “Holy Mother, Father Jamin asked me to ask you to give us a sign.” The Virgin replied cryptically,
“Believe in me, and I will believe in you!” Then her smile faded, and with a serious expression on her face, She said: “Pray a great deal.” She imparted a secret to Mariette, which she never revealed. Twice more she repeated: “Pray very much!” Then “Au revoir” and disappeared. Mariette bowed her head and wept.
There would be cures at the spring, but Father Jamin said later that the best sign he received from the Blessed Virgin was the return of Mariette’s family to the practice of the Catholic Faith. Mary had asked people to believe! To return to a life of faith. This apparition bore fruit. Belgian Catholics regained their fervor. They would put their Faith into practice. Jews would testify that the Belgians did more to boldly resist the Nazi regime than any country. The Nazis stepped back and allowed the internal government some freedom, for fear of reprisals from the nation.
The seventh apparition
The seventh apparition at Banneux is five days later, always in the evening, in the cold, after dark, in a dormant garden. This seems to symbolize the cold and dormant Catholicism in the country at this time. It was bitterly cold that night but our Lady delayed until ten decades were prayed. She was smiling. As usual they left the garden and made their way to the stream. She became serious. “My beloved child, pray very much. Au revoir!” Mariette sank to the ground and wept again.
This is the only set of apparitions I know of where the seer collapses almost every time. It was atypical of Mariette’s normally strong character. And she usually recovered right away. The visions will be officially approved, so I’m inclined to see these dramatic collapses as a supernatural symbol. Mariette’s family had fallen away from the Church. They live in darkness, dead in sin. Could the visit of the shining lady be a heavenly light that exposes the conscience and calls to conversion? There is a sense of being stricken, but with Mary’s intercession the soul rises again.
Ash Wednesday 1933: The Final Apparition
The eighth and last apparition is nearly two weeks away. March 1st is Ash Wednesday, 1933. The following evening it’s very cold. It’s been pouring rain since 3pm. But at 7pm Mariette boldly goes to the garden. A woman holds an umbrella over Mariette’s head while the eleven year-old leads a group Rosary. During the third Rosary the rain stopped, the clouds blew away, and the stars came out. “Here she comes!” Mariette cried with joy. But the Lady was not smiling. She stands above the ground on the smoky cloud, close to Mariette who is kneeling. “I am the Mother of the Savior, the Mother of God. Pray a great deal. Adieu!” She parted her hands, placed the palm of her left hand on the top of Mariette’s head, and with her right hand made the Sign of the Cross in the air over the girl the way a priest does during Mass. As she rose into the air and disappeared, Mariette collapsed onto the ground and wept inconsolably. In between sobs the girl poured forth “Hail Mary” after “Hail Mary.” After being carried inside her house, Mariette gave an account of what had transpired and affirmed that Our Lady would never appear to her again. “This time she said ‘Adieu’. She will not come again,” then Mariette wept, giving vent to her sorrow.
Father Jamin gave faithful reports to the Bishop of Liege. The prelate did not waste time in opening a formal investigation. Banneux was investigated from 1935 until 1937 by an episcopal commission on the authority of Cardinal VanRoey. More than forty witnesses gave testimony to Mariette’s behavior during the alleged visits. Mariette was interrogated so often that she said, “Had I known all that I was compelled to endure, I wouldn’t have said a word about my visions. Instead I would have built, all by myself, a little chapel in our garden.” The evidence collected was submitted to Rome.
Meanwhile word spread and growing numbers of pilgrims came to pray. Only seven months after the apparitions, the good bishop approved the consecration of a chapel constructed by a group of laymen to fulfill Our Lady’s request, although the Bishop made no ruling as yet, on the apparitions themselves. The chapel was dedicated on the Feast of the Assumption in 1933. The Beco family and many others became model Catholics.
The spring became the site of numberless cures and even larger numbers of spiritual conversions. One famous cure was of Benito Pelegri Garcia who had a very badly injured right arm. His wife had heard the stories about Banneux and insisted that they walk there from Barcelona, Spain. Benito thrust his arm into the spring and felt it to be boiling hot. He exclaimed, “I have come all the way from Spain. If you are indeed the Virgin of the Poor, then prove it to me!” He withdrew the drain-tube from his arm and the wound healed immediately in front of many witnesses.
During the German occupation of Belgium in 1942, Bishop Kerkhof encouraged the cult of Our Lady of Banneux, Our Lady of the Poor. He wrote an account of twenty miraculous cures occurring between 1933 and 1938. During the Second World War, Cardinal VanRoey issued an encyclical in which he declared that the events surrounding the apparitions were worthy of serious study. In 1947, Bishop Kerkhof gave preliminary approval. In 1948 the cornerstone of a new basilica was laid to replace the small chapel. On August 22, 1949, the Bishop of Liege in a pastoral letter officially declared that the eight appearances made by Our Lady to Mariette were worthy of belief.
During the war, Mariette married a Dutch salesman. During the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, an American chaplain found them and their fifteen month old baby living in the basement of a small home which was occupied by American soldiers. It was a difficult marriage. They had two children, and with her husband she operated a restaurant in Banneux before opening one in Pepinster very close to Banneux. Mariette remained faithful to the sacraments and to our Lady, but the marriage ended in divorce. She frequently made anonymous visits to the shrine, never seeking the limelight.
On May 21, 1985, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Banneux and prayed before the beautiful statue of the Virgin of the Poor, and he drank the water from the spring. He said: “Today, the poor–and there are many forms of poverty–feel at home in Banneux. The poor come here seeking consolation, courage, hope, and union with God during their trials. I encourage those pilgrims who come here to pray, always and with the whole Church, to reflect the merciful face of God.”
Mariette Beco met privately with the Pope in the sacristy of the shrine chapel. She died December 2nd 2011, at the age of 90. Three years earlier, at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the visions, she told a reporter: “I was no more than a postman who delivers the mail. Once this has been done, the postman is of no importance any more.” She never revealed the secret that our Lady had told her.
Banneux is now one of the most visited shrines of Our Lady in northern Europe. The little chapel requested by her has been replicated more than a hundred times throughout the world. In South Pittsburgh, Tennessee there is a Shrine of the Virgin of the Poor which is a replica of the shrine in Banneux, Belgium. It was built under the direction of the Benedictine monk, Father Basil Mattingly. The statue of the Virgin Mary was purchased in Banneux, Belgium.
The connection between Lourdes and Banneux was established in 1958, when a piece of the rock from Massabielle was mounted into the spring. The sheer number of visitors made it necessary to build the Pilgrim’s Church, completed in 1985 shortly before the visit of Pope John Paul II. Other centers for prayer and worship are the Chapel of the Sick and St. Michael’s Chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament is in exposition every day. There has been a recitation of the Rosary every evening since 1933 without fail.
These two apparitions of Mary are like mini-repeats, Beauraing of Fatima, with the Immaculate Heart and Banneux of Lourdes. But the messages are more gentle because the audience has been taught to be hostile to the Faith. Here Mary smiles lovingly and makes the messages more personal: at Fatima “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners,” at Beauraing “Sacrifice yourself for me.” On the one hand the latter is more appealing, to do something for a dear friend is easier than for a remote sinner who is offensive to man and God, and yet, to offer sacrifice to a human being opens up a world of theology. Believe me, the bishop and investigative panel had to do a great deal of work before they could approve Beauraing! But devout Catholics in Belgium had been prepared by the revelations of their compatriot, Berthe Petite regarding the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Pray for us “Our Lady of the Golden Heart”! Pray for us Mariette, and Gilberte and Albert and Andrew and Fernande and little Gilberte! All these seers remained faithful. They all married and raised families, and they have all passed on. They will help us to be faithful to Mary’s messages.