There are many memories and stories about Fr. Mendoza-here’s a very incredible one that happened to me.
I was leading a group to Betania, Venezuela from the U.S. in October, 1993. As leader of the group I was responsible for directly paying the owners of the Hacienda where we would be staying and the local guide, Raul. Upon request I was to bring cash (about $7,000.00) and give it immediately to Raul upon arrival at the airport. I was a little nervous having to carry so much money on me so I had asked a travel companion, a young man I worked with, if he’d carry half of it…just in case. He agreed.
After landing in Caracas I met up with our guide who was eagerly awaiting us and the money. As usual the airport was a sea of people, strange sights, smells, and extremely chaotic. I gave Raul both envelopes and felt immediately relieved to no longer be responsible for the large amount of money. As was his custom Raul went directly to the money exchange booth at the airport and had it changed into the local currency. Ah! All was well…or so I thought!
I took count to make sure everyone was there, gathered the group together and boarded our awaiting bus for the 2 hour drive to our Hacienda located next to the shrine in Betania. Father Mendoza, a holy priest of extreme prayerfulness, started praying the Rosary and other prayers of thanksgiving immediately for our safe flight. He also asked the assistance of our guardian angels to accompany us on the rest of our journey along the dark and winding road to Betania. At last we reached our destination where we prayed, received room assignments, had a delicious late night meal and headed to bed. Morning would come early and we were eagerly anticipating our first day here. We awoke to a lovely morning and realized that we were in a breathtakingly beautiful area of Venezuela, right on the edge of the rain forest. The delicious smell of coffee and food filled the air as we awaited Mass and afterwards our first breakfast together.
Tranquil as it was, the peace didn’t last long. I was told that Raul was looking for me. With the help of a translator, I discovered that Raul was saying that I had given him only half the money the night before and was asking for the rest of it. Being the careful and overly scrupulous person that I am, I knew this was impossible. I had indeed given him two envelopes at the airport the night before…he said no, now what would I do? It was suggested that we should immediately start searching all persons, purses, backpacks, and rooms for the missing envelope, and that’s what we did. We were all suspects. No one was exempt, not I, Raul, not even Father Mendoza, who grumbled and felt a bit insulted. We checked and re-checked the entire area, needless to say, after all of our efforts, we still hadn’t found the missing envelope.
It was getting serious. At this point I felt that we would be thrown out for non-payment and not even have a way back to the airport! That’s when Father decided that prayer was in order with a plea to our guardian angels for extra help. The group joined hands and prayed. Father reminded us that trust in God and a firm belief in His faithfulness was needed. It was then that I felt peace. I didn’t know where the money was but I felt it would somehow all be ok.
With that in mind Father and I started the walk to the Grotto at Betania. It was a relatively short walk (10 minutes or so) but Father suffered terribly with pains in his feet and legs, so it would take a while. As we reached the main road he told me he was going to hitch a ride the rest of the way. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! There were bumper-to bumper-cars creeping along toward the Grotto with complete strangers driving them. Father put his thumb in the air and attempted to make eye contact with one of them. However briefly their eyes met they quickly looked away. I then told him that I would just meet him at the entrance to the Shrine and left him at that point.
After several minutes I was almost to the gate when I heard my name being called. As I looked up I saw Father getting out of a car and crossing the road towards me. He continued to call my name with much excitement in his voice. When he reached me, he said “Candy your troubles are over“. I said what do you mean??? He said “look in your backpack”. I unzipped it and right on top the first thing I saw was the white envelope. This couldn’t be…we’d checked and rechecked this very backpack. I hadn’t been with nor near anyone except Father since I had last zipped it closed a few minutes earlier. I asked him how did he know this and he said the angels had told him it would be there, that’s where they put it. Was the guy in the car an angel? I don’t know nor did father really elaborate on this. His faith was so strong, and his love for his Guardian Angel so special…why did I ever doubt even for a minute?
Over the years, he recounted this story often. This is the first time I’ve shared it publicly. This is a true story and one that I will cherish forever.
Oh, and the young man who helped transport one of the envelopes for me…….. he is now a very holy Catholic priest. I will let him tell his story in due time.
But there is a prequel to this story… click here for more details.