Mother Esperanza, the Religious Who 'Read Jackie Kennedy's Soul'

“Madre Esperanza. Los milagros desconocidos del alma gemela del Padre Pío” (Mother Esperanza: The Unknown Miracles of Padre Pio’s Twin Soul) is a book that reflects on the life and work of Mother Esperanza, a Spanish Religious Founder of the Shrine of […]

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“Madre Esperanza. Los milagros desconocidos del alma gemela del Padre Pío” (Mother Esperanza: The Unknown Miracles of Padre Pio’s Twin Soul) is a book that reflects on the life and work of Mother Esperanza, a Spanish Religious Founder of the Shrine of Merciful Love of Collevalenza — a woman who “read Jacqueline Kennedy’s soul” and who was beatified in 2014.
Jose Maria Zavala, the book’s author, had access to the Congregation’s archives, to the Positio and especially to testimonies and two unpublished diaries of very significant individuals who spoke with Mother Esperanza and whose diaries reveal unknown details of her relationship with Saint John Paul II, Padre Pio and Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.
The book’s first edition was sold out in 24 hours, the day after Iker Jimenez presented it in the “Fourth Millennium” television program, where the author collaborates.
ZENIT: How did the idea of writing this book come about?
Zavala: Pure Providence. I went with my family to live in Murcia last year, not knowing very well what we had lost there, weighing several work issues. However, at a most unexpected moment, a priest spoke to me for the first time of Mother Esperanza, adding: “You must write her biography to make her known in Spain.” He gave me a folder on her and, as I read it, I was convinced that I had to write that book. Since then, I undertook a trip to Collevalenza and to Rome, where I was able to interview living witnesses who knew Mother Esperanza for many years, and to access the formidable archive of the Shrine of Merciful Love.
ZENIT: How did you undertake the task of documentation?
Zavala: The Positio also had to be managed, namely, Mother Esperanza’s process of canonization, as happened to me at the time with Padre Pio, to write a book which is now in its 16th edition in Spain, and which has been translated in Italy; it was a wonderful experience and an immense privilege. There is a veritable arsenal of documents in the Positio, many of them unpublished, which now come to light in the book, together as well with the unknown diaries of Father Mario Gialletti, Mother Esperanza’s secretary up to the moment of her death, and of Pietro Iacopini, one of her most beloved sons.
ZENIT: In addition to making Mother Esperanza known, what else does this book offer?
Zavala: For instance, the written testimony ex profeso for the book of the parents of Francesco Maria, the boy whose miraculous cure served Pope Francis to authorize the Decree of Beatification of Mother Esperanza in 2014. And many more things: the day in which Mother Esperanza began to vomit blood, soaking four whole towels, knowing that in a few hours Turk Ali Agca would attack John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. That same dawn, they called the Religious’ personal doctor, Tommasso Baccarelli. As soon as he saw his patient, he decided on an urgent blood transfusion, alleging that otherwise she would die. However, while they were engaged in the pertinent analyses to determine her blood type, Dr. Baccarelli was astonished to see that the level of her red blood cells was completely normal. Yet, Mother Esperanza did not stop vomiting blood, between death rattles, until she learned that John Paul II’s life was out of danger. I was able to do the reconstruction of what happened that day in Mother Esperanza’s cell with the testimonies found in the Positio, among them Sister Amada’s statement, who was at her side at all times and whom I met in person in Collevalenza.
ZENIT: Why is she called “Padre Pio’s twin soul”?
Zavala: Spiritually speaking, they were like two drops of water. They both had Jesus Christ’s stigmata in their hands, feet and side for more than half a century, as well as the gift of bilocation (the possibility of being in two different places at the same time), of introspection of consciences, miraculous cures, prophecy … And,  in Mother Esperanza’s case, she also multiplied food with which she fed more than 3,000 people every day in Rome, during World War II. And as if that were not enough, she also changed water into wine. Padre Pio and Mother Esperanza were also united in the personal persecution they both suffered on the part of the Church herself.
ZENIT: How did the meeting with Jacqueline Kennedy come about?
Zavala: The young widow of the former President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, went to Collevalenza on November 15, 1967. The youngest First Lady in the history of her country, she was then 38 and had almost her whole life before her, after the terrible attack that cost her husband’s life four years earlier, but her soul was battling with intense convulsions.
She was accompanied that day by Antonio Garrigues y Diaz-Canabate, the Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See, of whom evil or perhaps indiscreet tongues attributed at the time a disgraceful romance with the beautiful and elegant North American lady. JFK’s widow met with Mother Esperanza, who, after reading her soul, gave her some advice to come close to God and give meaning to her life of intense suffering.
ZENIT: Why do you think Mother Esperanza’s life and work is little known in Spain?
Zavala: She, in fact, exemplifies very well that no one is a prophet in his land. However, I will tell you that now there are thousands of new people who know her through her book, whose first edition was sold out in 24 hours, after being presented on the “Fourth Millennium” program, directed by Iker Jimenez, with whom I collaborate. That same night I couldn’t get any sleep, answering the hundreds of messages of people who had watched the program and were impacted by the figure of Mother Esperanza.
ZENIT: You have had access to two unpublished diaries of individuals who knew Mother Esperanza and which reveal unknown details on her relationship with Saint John Paul II, Padre Pio and Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. Can you tell us something about this?
Zavala: We begin, if you agree, with Saint John Paul II. Karol Wojtyla, the then Archbishop of Krakow, visited Mother Esperanza in Collevalenza in 1964, in order to give him the key to unblock Sister Faustina Kowalska’s process of beatification … and she gave it to him! Padre Pio put them in touch.
She and Padre Pio saw one another during a whole year in bilocation in the Holy Office, and they both sent one another souls to be cared for. Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balagueer also had close contact with her in Madrid in 1935. At the time, the Founder of Opus Dei resided in the DYA Academy, which was on the same Ferraz street where Mother Esperanza also lived. Saint Josemaria visited her often in the company of Isidoro Zorzano, one of Opus Dei’s first numeraries [who has just been declared venerable], and tried to console her given the brutal persecution she was then suffering on the part of the Church.

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