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
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
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
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.
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