Maria Esperanza, 75, a Venezuelan homemaker and religious mystic said to have had recurring visits by the Blessed Virgin Mary, died Aug. 7 at the home of friends in Ocean County, N.J. She was being treated for Parkinson's disease.
From the time of her first reported visit by Mary in Betania, Venezuela, on March 25, 1976, there have been numerous reports of miraculous cures there. After a three-year investigation by Bishop Pio Bello Ricardo of Venezuela, he referred to the site -- a grotto with a waterfall -- as "sacred ground" and a place of incidents "of a divine source."
Betania has attracted throngs of Roman Catholic pilgrims each year since.
For some years Esperanza is said to have experienced spontaneous bleeding from her hands. Similar wounds, known as stigmata, are believed to have marked the hands, feet, side or head of several profound mystics, including St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. The wounds recall those of Jesus Christ from his crucifixion.
Born in Barrancas, Venezuela, Esperanza married Geo Bianchini Gianni in 1956. They had seven children.