She said:

“Ito and Roni are brothers. And since he was born…since Ito was very young…the Virgin comes to him. We call this ‘vidente‘. The Virgin used to talk to him in the trees. His madre thought he was sick with fever.”

The road to the spring took off from the highway west and just inland of Portobelo, Panama. It was rocky and rough and lined with a fence made of diminutive acacias and a broadleaf species I didn’t know. The air was oppressive with the humidity. Men with machetes walked in rows toward the shade of a large tree. There were horses and ducks and chickens moving along the fenceline. The hills were all green. It seemed like all of the Caribbean coast of Panama was green.

la media luna

“The Virgin told him that she wanted a church to be built in a place called El Valle de Media Luna in Colon at a place where there were three volcanic stones in a triangular formation above a spring…and the white lily.”

“I am the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys.” – Song of Songs (2:1)

“She said she wanted a little chapel built right next to the three rocks and she said that below people would be healed in the blessed water of the ojo.

It all started on December 12, 1986. Roni is Rolando Muñoz. He is Ito’s brother and the Virgin started coming to him when Ito died.  He got the message. They looked for three years all over Panama.  They were

la media lunafrom Las Tablas, I think so, and they didn’t know anything about this side and they didn’t know anything at all about this valley.”

“Can I talk to Roni?” I asked.  I’d never talked with someone who had communicated with the Virgin or God or any other special powers or beings. I guess I felt gutsy.

At first, we were the only ones at the spring.  In the shade of the acacias and palms the temperature dropped dramatically. The air was sweet. There hadn’t been enough rain and the blue-tiled, heart-shaped pool was dry but all the flowers…the hibiscus…the Panama rose…they were all in bloom. There were several spigots long the cement path to the top of the miniature watershed and we splashed our faces and drank. The water was cold.  There was a rusting bike leaning against a back hedge but it looked perfect there.

“I don’t see why not. He would love to talk I think.

“It took them three years to find this place. The Virgin gave exact instructions on how to find it and how she wanted these places to look. She gave the details and many people have been healed in these waters.”

A car arrived and a grandmother in white shorts and a green t-shirt guided three giggling children, two boys and a girl, from the backseat and up the path to the highest spigot in the watershed where she washed them in the spring water.  They wore only bathing suits and their feet were bare. The grandfather brought a picnic basket.  He had a mole on his face and limped. They were Indians but I didn’t know the ethnic group and I wondered for how long people had come to this spring and how many religions layered meaning on the waters.

Holy places have always been and always will be holy places.

I’m always looking for those places and the people touched by God or the Gods…Him or Her, I don’t care…or imbude with something special. Not the self-righteous and the ones who dominate but the ones who bring something peaceful and/or interesting to the world. I’ll know you’re religion isn’t true if it preaches hate and intolerance.

Anyway, La Media Luna is one of those special places and once I knew about it I had to go there.

“When Ito dies – and he was very young – the Virgin talked through Roni but also then Santa Teresa de Ávila had things to add and she started talking to him too.  I think a lot of people in this area have also talked with the Virgin or they have had visits.  One of the signs of the Virgin is the dancing sun. La Virgen del Sol Danzante.  I have seen this.  When the sun dances each person sees a different manifestation in the sky – including the sacred heart of Jesus. I have seen this.”

la media luna

Stands of tall bamboo crowded the top of the little watershed. A flycatcher with a yellow breast darted about. We climbed a flight of stairs to the place where they built the rock chapel next to the three rocks. The cement path was lined with lilies and lilacs and baby palm trees only a few feet high. The grass was clipped close. There was a bed of sweet pea that hadn’t blossomed yet and a little blue flower called novio.  The zopilotes that are everywhere in Panama passed overhead.  There was a giant green cross over-looking the hills of jungle and then the new church. It was very modern with crisp, clean lines and massive windows.

la media luna

“The Virgin made the money happen. She wanted the people to feel the peace and to make the pilgrimage for peace and so they call her La Virgen Maria de la Media Luna or Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza. It is a place to convert your heart. I don’t think she was going to let them worry about money.  So it just came.”

It was a slow motion construction site and the sun was hot. A man was grinding on an iron gate with an electric machine. Another man had a shovel on his shoulder.  He wore a blue shirt and a white hat that said “Panama”.  We asked him about the nuns.  Could we talk to the nuns? They were all Colombians, he said and no, we couldn’t visit them then because they were in prayer.

la media luna

 So we called Ronald Muñoz and I asked him: “Who are you?”

 “I’m just a normal man.  I like to laugh, drink a beer and enjoy life.  Don’t think I’m anything special and don’t be afraid of me when you meet me.  I’m just a messenger.

“In the beginning, I didn’t want to accept this.  I didn’t want to be like my brother.  I was frustrated.  I didn’t want the Virgin talking to me.

“You must remember.  I was just a man of the world.  I did many stupid things and I didn’t believe any of it.  No way.  When the interior voices began I didn’t know how to handle it.  So the Virgin came to me and said that she would send someone to help me with the mission and to help me to understand.”

la media luna

“Who did she send?”  I asked. I wished he were there with us at Media Luna and not on his farm in Las Tablas.

“So.  A nun came to me dressed in a chocolate brown habit and she said ‘I am your guide. I am Santa Teresa of Ávila’.”

“What did she say?”

 “She taught me what contemplative prayer is.  You have to do it every day, she says, so that you can separate your emotions and feelings and so that you can look deeper inside.”

“For what?  To look for what?”  I asked.

 “Remember the teachings of Santa Teresa.  She wants us to connect directly with God.  You find God inside you, not in or through the church.  Find God in you and you in God.”

“God wants us to live in this world,” I said. “‘All the way to Heaven is Heaven‘, she wrote.”

“Thats right. It had to be that Santa Teresa would speak through me and not just to me, so that I would be accepted.  It was very scary because they weren’t my words – or even my own voice – coming out of my own mouth,” he laughed. “It took awhile to learn how to be an instrument of Santa Teresa…to be her vocal chords.”

la media luna

“What do you want to see become of La Media Luna?”

“I want people to be able to go to La Media Luna to feel energy and love. So that they will convert their hearts.  I don’t want tourists there.  It’s not about the numbers. It is about the heart. It is for meditation. It is a place where the love of God can open your spirit.”

la media luna

When we arrived at the church it was mostly empty. An old dog guarded the entry but he didn’t care about us. Another pup in the nave just wanted some love.  The floor of the church was covered in hundreds of fat bugs called cocorrones. The smell was a little musty, then a breeze came through and I could smell flowers. Bougainvillea perhaps.

I heard a hammer at work in a back room.  Two small children were laughing off in a corner and their grandfather shooshed them and then started laughing himself.

I felt very fortunate to be in that place.

~ ~ ~

“Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass.

God does not change. Patience achieves everything.” 

― Teresa of Ávila






  1. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply February 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Have you heard about Panama's Media Luna? It is a fascinating place with a fascinating story. I was fortunate enough to go there.

    • Comment by Marsha Kellogg

      Marsha Kellogg Reply February 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Wow Jim! Beautiful. Had not heard of this place. Nice to see the goddess still speaks to us!

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm

      It is a very cool, very interesting place and the people involved have such a good energy. I'll respond to your email ASAP.

  2. Comment by María Elena

    María Elena Reply February 4, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I like the way you wrote the story and description of this amazing place…knowing it since 10 years ago, I can tell you it has been nice reading it! As usual, the pictures demonstrated a great photographer…..Felicidades!

  3. Comment by Vera Marie Badertscher

    Vera Marie Badertscher Reply February 4, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    What a beatiful article. Full of grace, like the place Jim O'Donnel found.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 4, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Thank you so much Vera. It is a place of grace indeed.

  4. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply February 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Savannah P. Rodriguez – this is the place I mentioned to you.

  5. Comment by Kiva Duckworth-Moulton

    Kiva Duckworth-Moulton Reply February 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    really nice, Jim. Contemplative, complimentary, without condescension.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Thank you Kiva.

  6. Comment by Marc d'Entremont

    Marc d'Entremont Reply February 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Another beautiful experience captured by Jim O'Donnell. What travel writing's all about.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Thank you so much Marc. And it is these kind of experiences that really MAKE travelling for me.

  7. Comment by Marc d'Entremont

    Marc d'Entremont Reply February 5, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Another beautiful experience captured. What travel writing’s all about.

  8. Comment by Jobavi Luna

    Jobavi Luna Reply February 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I'm a Catholic. I believed every word.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      Joan…please explain.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 8, 2013 at 3:45 am

      Please? Jobavi Luna?

    • Comment by Jobavi Luna

      Jobavi Luna Reply February 8, 2013 at 6:20 am

      Hang on a minute…or so.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      I'm still hanging….

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply May 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      Still hanging……..

  9. Comment by Jim McIntosh

    Jim McIntosh Reply February 7, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Enjoyed this immensely. Not a believer in religion myself, but I do feel places are imbued with a 'presence' or spirits. I've been honoured to have felt them in special places.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      I tend to agree Jim. I'm not religious but consider myself spiritual and I dont doubt either the place nor the basis of the words that come to Mr. Munoz.

  10. Comment by Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot Reply February 10, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Hi Jim,

    Your writing is as beautiful as your photos. We went to Portobello (in itself an amazing place) but I hadn’t heard of La Media Luna. It’s always the places that are the most off the beaten track that arrest us most.

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