“This is a tragic story that could well be made into a movie since it has all the ingredients of a blockbuster.”
There has been a continuing movement in the Philippines mainly by Marian devotees, particularly by those who venerate Mary Mediatrix of All Grace of the 1948 phenomenon where rose petals with the imprint of images of Jesus Christ and Blessed Virgin Mary were noted.
My wife and I in particular are Marian devotees, having undertaken Marian pilgrimages in Europe and in Akita, Japan. To non-Catholics, the faithful venerate Marian images, unlike those of God, where we Catholics worship them, Santa Banana!
It was during Holy Week that I read reports that there is now a visible movement of Marian devotees, particularly of those devoted to Mary Mediatrix of All Grace to revive the Lipa phenomenon of Mary who allegedly appeared and consequently showered rose petals on the Lipa Carmelite monastery of nuns.
I was a member of the Sodality Club of the old Ateneo de Manila at the ruins of Padre Faura. It was during my second year student in my four-year Bachelor of Arts course that we took a pilgrimage to Lipa where thousands of Marian devotees flocked. I saw rose petals strewn all over the garden of the Carmelite Monastery. We were, however, prohibited to touch them. Still, some pilgrims managed to bring some of those petals home. Since that time, all these years, I have been wondering whether or not that phenomenon was indeed miraculous or not.
But I did believe, as I do now, that the Lipa Miracle was indeed authentic and worthy of belief. I believe in the old adage that for those who believe, no explanation is necessary, but for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.
Tragically and sadly, the Lipa phenomenon was wracked by controversies, my gulay, so much so that a commission was formed which decreed it not worthy of belief and veneration by Catholics. But I am going ahead of the story.
The Lipa story began when the Carmelite monastery was in total ruins, having then been bombed by the Americans during the Liberation because it was occupied by the Japanese during the Occupation. But through the rigors and dedication of six Carmelite nuns and through donations and contributions, the Lipa monastery was restored to its original structure.
I’m taking off from the book written by Rene C. De Jesus, a member of the Volunteers of God branch of the Focolare Movement. He writes for Focolare’s New City magazine and is a member of its Editorial Board. In his chosen apostolate at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, he directed spiritual formation meetings for inmates at maximum-security compounds. I must congratulate him for bringing to life the Lipa Phenomenon.
The story is intertwined by the life of one Teresita “Teresing” Castillo who became a postulate of the Carmelite Monastery, having virtually escaped at the age of 16 from her middle-class family and pursued by her two brothers with guns who tried to force her out of the monastery. Santa Banana!
The story goes that Teresing, because of her affection for and devotion to the Monastery prioress, underwent painful physical sufferings from Satan to make her become so homesick that signs were all over her body inflicted by Satan. But, Mama Mary allegedly spoke to her to continue suffering to the extent that she even drank dirty water that she had washed the feet of the prioress with. This reminds me of what Saint Bernadette of Soubirous did at the Miracle of Lourdes when Mary of the Immaculate Conception told her to eat grass and dig with her hands the ground from which the miraculous spring waters of Lourdes come from.
There were reports of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Teresing, after which showers of rose petals with the imprints of Jesus Christ and Mama Mary could be seen, my gulay! With all these, pilgrims started piling into the Monastery.
The Bishop of Lipa, Monsignor Alfredo Verzosa went to the convent and grew so concerned over the phenomenon. He then decided to go to the Monastery, but as he reached the Monastery, rose petals flew before him, Santa Banana! This personal encounter changed his heart. In January 1949, the cornerstone of the image of our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces, a sculpture for the occasion was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by some 30,000 to 50,000 people, including former First Lady Aurora Quezon. Showers of rose petals continued having imprints of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On 23 January 1950, Bishop Verzosa was relieved for no reason at all, leaving with him 33 years of dedicated service of the administration of the diocese of Lipa. Then Apostolic administrator Monsignor Rufino Santos replaced Versoza. Under his authority, a commission was formed to investigate the Lipa phenomenon. Auxiliary Bishop Alfredo Obviar was likewise relieved and was demoted as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Lucena.
Teresing, deeply saddened by the departure of Verzosa and Obviar, remained until she was involuntarily dismissed after facing heavy interrogation. Teresing left the monastery and went home. The commission was composed of bishops and psychologists, but the investigation was haphazard and consequently a verdict was arrived at and issued before the investigation.
The monastery nuns were told to burn all the rose petals and were left with very painful memories of the phenomenon. The statue of Mary Mediatrix of All Graces was ordered removed from view and people were banned from further venerating it. Years later it was discovered that members of the commission were ordered by the Apostolic Nuncio to conclude the investigation as soon as possible.
Teresing never married, but in her twilight years (she is as old as I am in years, having been born on Sept 12, 1927), she suffered Alzheimer’s Disease, erasing all memories of the Lipa phenomenon. But many or most Marian devotees, particularly those who venerate Mary Mediatrix of All Graces have kept faith, still hoping that the Lipa phenomenon be investigated anew.
On record. there had been many miracles attributed to the shower of rose petals at the Carmelite monastery, the most notable of which was that of that miracle of the rose petals on a little girl who could not walk because one leg was shorter than the other as a result of having a club foot. She had to be carried. Her parents managed to get hold of rose petals from Lipa and these were rubbed on the head of the girl, and lo, she was able to walk again normally like other people. The girl is the daughter of one of a middle class family from Candon, Ilocos Sur.
The Lipa phenomenon is a tragic story that could well be made into a movie since it has all the ingredients of a blockbuster—pathos, love and demonic happenings, sacrifice, tragedies, apparitions, and human error. As far as I am concerned, there is an urgent need after 74 years to revisit the Lipa phenomenon, especially now, with no less than Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in Rome. As for Teresing, I hope she is still alive and well.