When people talk about “miracles” after World Youth Day, they usually mean the conversions – the tens of thousands of people who go to confession, the hundreds of thousands who adore the Eucharist together.
But on the final day of the World Youth Day held last week in Lisbon, a rumor began to spread about a miracle in the most literal sense of the term. In dozens of WhatsApp chats among Spanish-speaking Catholics, a voice memo circulated, in which Jimena, a 16-year-old girl from Madrid, said that after she received the Eucharist at an Aug. 5 Mass, she had recovered her sight, after two years of almost total blindness.
Jimena’s last name has been withheld at her family’s request. Her father, Gustavo, spoke with The Pillar Tuesday, explaining that he believes a miracle occurred.
Whether doctors will agree remains to be seen.
According to her father, Gustavo, Jimena began to progressively lose her sight when she was 14 years old.
“The doctors told us that he she had an ‘accommodation spasm,’ which is normal for children of that age, as long as the spasm is between two and four diopters per eye. The problem is that she had a lack of control between 8 and 16 diopters.”
“She progressively lost her sight, until only 5% was left,” Gustavo told The Pillar.
“We looked for the best medical team we could get in Spain, specialists in this type of disease, which is normally treated with drops of atropine, placed in the eyes, which dilate the pupil, force the spasm to subside, and eventually lead to healing.”
“But the problem in Jimena’s case was that the spasm was bigger than usual – and so after 18 months, with a high daily dose of the drops every day, absolutely nothing changed,” he added.
Eventually, her dad said, Jimena stopped the treatment, when the headaches and other side effects were too much. Looking for other medical options proved fruitless – doctors said Jimena’s condition was unique.
So she began to accept that she had lost her vision, Gustavo explained.
"Jimena began to live as a person who does not see, she began to read and write in braille with the support of the Association of the Blind of Spain, to whom we will be eternally grateful,” he added.
Jimena’s family takes the practice of the Catholic faith seriously. And, according to her father, she’s received some surprising graces already.
More than a year ago, Jimena needed to undergo a painful treatment when she lost control of her eye movement. But according to her father, “she decided the night before the operation that we should all pray to the Virgin. And the next day it was cured, they did not have to intervene.”
When Jimena went to World Youth Day this summer, she was preparing for some big changes in her life. She would start her final year of high school in the fall – and getting ready for college would mean learning to walk with a cane or use a guide dog. That meant a lot of complications for Jimena and her family, her father said.
So Jimena decided to pray about the situation.
“In July we were on a trip to visit the Virgen del Carmen in a small town near Máalaga, and she told me that she had had an inspiration while praying the rosary, that she felt that the Virgin was asking her to make a novena between July 28 and August 5th."
But then Jimena second-guessed herself, her dad said.
She started to think that the idea wasn’t really from prayer, “that she made it up, because we didn’t think Aug. 5 was a Marian feast of any kind.”
“But I searched the internet and saw that Aug. 5 is the day of the Virgin of the Snows. So I told her that we would do it with all the faith in the world, and we would tell all our friends to join us in praying, and praying with the conviction that this is the day and she would be cured,” he added.
Jimena attended WYD with a group of friends from an Opus Dei youth club. On Aug. 5, as usual, she woke up “seeing super blurry, horrible” she said in the voice memo that circulated on WhatsApp.
“That last day of the novena she made a deep confession,” her father said. “She told us it was the best and deepest confession of her life.”
In her voice memo, Jimena explained what happened next:
“I went to Mass with my friends because we were at World Youth Day, and the truth is that at Mass I was super nervous. After receiving Communion I went to the pew, and I started to cry a lot, because it was the last day of the novena and I wanted to be cured, and I had pleaded with God for this so many times.”
And then, Jimena and her family claim, a miracle happened:
“When I opened my eyes, I could see perfectly.”
“I saw the altar, the tabernacle … my friends were there, and I could see perfectly that they were two-and-a-half years older than I remembered them, and later I looked at myself in the mirror. I am also a bit changed.”
At that moment in Mass, Jimena said: “I saw everything super clear. I had a friend by my side, and I saw her perfectly.”
Jimena began to cry. Her friends came over to see what was wrong.
“She was crying because she was seeing their faces after two-and-a-half years, and it was very emotional for her, even to see that they had changed in that time,” her father told The Pillar.
For her part, Jimena told her parents that she believed the Blessed Virgin Mary had interceded for a miraculous healing.
To pray the final day of her novena, she said, Jimena read the words – not in Braille, but with her eyes.
It took some getting used to, she said.
“I read the novena prayer and the truth is that I still read quite well, I haven't completely forgotten it. I read a little slowly, but I'll get some practice," said Jimena.
“I'm going to call all my daughters Nieves [snow],” she added with a laugh.
“Aug. 5 is my new birthday because the Virgin has given me a gift that I will not forget,” she concluded.
The Spanish bishops
Spanish media reported Tuesday that Cardinal Juan José Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona and president of the Spanish episcopal conference, spoke with Jimena and her family, and heard her testimony about the alleged miracle.
Omella also said an investigation will begin with doctors:
“Let's give thanks to God … and then the doctors will assess and say if she’s been cured or not.”
Jimena’s father said that a medical investigation will begin in a few weeks.
“The doctors are going to evaluate her in September. We have contacted the same team that treated her for a year and a half, and we are waiting for them to evaluate,” he said.
Whatever doctors decide, it is unlikely that the Spanish bishops’ conference will officially investigate the claim of a miracle.
“Since this is not something that involves a possible miracle for someone in the process of canonization, no further investigation or official recognition is needed,” Gustavo explained.
“At the moment, we have not spoken with anyone from the bishops’ conference, or any other Church authorities, apart from Cardinal Omella's call to Jimena,” he said.
Still, Gustavo said that whatever comes next, his family is convinced of a miracle.
"Jimena has a special relationship with the Virgin, like many people," her father told The Pillar.
“She let herself be led blindly by the hand – never better said – and abandoned herself to the will of our Mother.”
"We believe that what Our Lady wanted to tell us with this is that we have to convert, and have faith, in times where having faith is complicated," he concluded.
“The Virgin wanted to do it, and it is something that transcends us.”