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|The Roses of Grace: The Apparitions of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace in Lipa Carmel in 1948|
by Rafael M. Villongco
On November 12, 2009, a major development in the history of Marian apparitions occurred. Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles of Lipa issued an official decree overturning the negative verdict on the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Lipa, Batangas province, 1948.
If the Lipa apparitions will be declared of supernatural character, Lipa may join the ranks of the other approved major apparitions such as Guadalupe, La Salette, Lourdes, Fatima, Pontmain, Beauraing and Banneux, as well as the more recent Akita, Betania, Cuapa, Amsterdam, and Kibeho.
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, declared that, "all bans written and unwritten to curtail or diminish the devotion to Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace be lifted." He then formed a new theological commission to conduct a thorough investigation and review all documents regarding the apparitions.
Teresita L Castillo was born into a prominent and affluent family from Tanauan, Batangas. Her father, Modesto Castillo was the governor of the province. She was raised and educated in convent schools. Teresita or "Teresing" as she is affectionately called, had nurtured a vocation to become a Discalced Carmelite. On her 21st birthday on July 4, 1948, she fled her home to enter the Carmel in Lipa. When her family found out, they tried to dissuade her with threats. But despite all the pressures, Teresita prevailed in following her call to become a Carmelite nun.
Within a few weeks after her entrance to Lipa Carmel, on the evening of July 31, 1948, Satan appeared to Teresita in her cell and attempted to evict her from the monastery. She rejected the devil but he was very persistent and soon the diabolical harassment was about to escalate. Teresita described the devil as being 'surrounded by fire' all over his body.
The First Apparition of the Blessed Virgin in Teresita's Cell
On August 18, 1948, Teresita noticed a very heavenly fragrance, and upon entering her room she saw a very beautiful Lady in white who spoke to her: "Do not fear my daughter, He who loves above all things has sent me. I come with a message…"
Then, the Lady asked Sister Teresita to wash the feet of the Mother Prioress, to kiss it and drink the water afterwards. Initially, Mother Cecilia, the Prioress, was skeptical of Teresita's claim until the Lady sent on Teresita's person a sign. Mother Cecilia saw tears of blood on the eyes of Teresita. The Mother Prioress then believed in Teresita's story about the apparition. Both of them followed the Lady's very unusual request for the washing of the feet. The Lady said that the washing was a "sign of humility and obedience" and a way to thwart the plans of the adversary.
The visionary, Teresita was astonished by the rapid succession of supernatural events surrounding her. It is said that Teresita inquired: "What is this? Is life really like this in Carmel?"
The Fifteen Apparitions at the Cloister Garden and the Messages
On Sunday afternoon, September 12, 1948, the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, Teresita, while taking a walk at the cloister garden, was amazed when saw a vine shaking violently although there was no wind. She approached the vine and heard the Lady's voice telling her: "Do not fear, my child. Kiss the ground and whatever I shall tell you to do, you must do. Eat some grass, my child."
Teresita followed the Lady's request to eat some grass. The same had been asked of Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in 1858. "I wish that you come here to visit me on this spot for fifteen consecutive days be it rain or shine." Teresita didn't see the Lady but she only heard her voice.
On September 13 at five o' clock in the afternoon, Teresita returned at the garden, she knelt and prayed the "Hail Mary". Upon saying the words "full of grace" she saw the vine moving and then see saw the most beautiful Lady with her hands clasped in prayer holding a golden Rosary on her right hand. The Lady was clothed with an immaculate white gown and a narrow belt. She was barefoot and her feet were resting on a cloud floating about two to three feet above the ground. The Lady was very beautiful beyond words.
The Lady said, “Please pray for priests and nuns and help me by making penance for them. Pray for them as you have never prayed before. The Sacred Heart of My Son bleeds anew for every fallen priest or nun. To some, pride was the obstacle to return to the true fold and shame hardened their hearts."
Teresita asked the Lady: "Who are you?" The Lady replied: "I am your Mother and am the Mother of my Son, Jesus."
The next day at the same time, Teresita went to the same place at the vine and she found the Lady already waiting for her, with her arms outstretched as if she ready to embrace Teresita.
"I wish this place to be blessed tomorrow" the Lady requested. Teresita asked: "At what time, my dear Lady?" The Lady replied: "At anytime your Mother Prioress wants. My child, I forbid you to forget the incidents of these fifteen days." The Lady gave her maternal blessing to Teresita and then vanished.
The blessing of the garden took place at three o 'clock in the afternoon of September 15. The Chaplain of Carmel, Bishop Alfredo Maria Obviar, officiated the ritual. The Lady appeared again to Teresita but was only visible to her. She outstretched her arms as if to gather everyone present in her maternal embrace.
The Lady asked Teresita to get a sheet of paper and pencil to write her message: "My daughters: I ask you to believe in me and to keep this as a secret among yourselves for the time being. Love one another as true sisters. Come and visit me here often. Love your Mother Prioress very much. Make this spot holy and venerate the grounds. I wish this monastery be known as Our Lady's Carmel."
It was after that apparition and the blessing by Bishop Obviar that the nuns witnessed for the first time, the sudden and mysterious appearance of rose petals. The shower of rose petals was the sign which Bishop Obviar prayed for in order to prove the authenticity of Teresita's visions.
Teresita returned to the vine at about five in the afternoon and the Lady gave another message: "I ask this from Carmel: I wish that my image be place here on this spot. This place must be cleaned so that it may become a shrine for prayer."
On September 16, the Lady appeared to Teresita accompanied by little angels or cherubims. The Lady with a very sad countenance came with this message: "Little one, two of my daughters refuse to believe me. They dislike like you also." Then the Lady continued: "I wish a statue of myself to be made so that my little ones can see. Describe me to your Chaplain. I wish my statue to look as you see me and as big as that of Our Lady of Lourdes which stands in the cloister."
There was also a message given for a sister who did not believe in the apparitions: "To my daughter who does not believe me, I do not oblige you to believe. But do not block nor debase my sacred place nor despise my words…"
On September 24, the Lady asked the Carmelite community for a Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the spirituality of Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort from his treatise, "True Devotion to Mary."
Sunday, September 26 was the last of the fifteen days of Teresita's encounter with the Lady at the vine. The Lady said to her: "Do not forget that My Son is the Way, the Truth and the Life… My child, you must love and obey your Mother Prioress. Tell the sisters to love one another and to practice the virtues of humility and simplicity which I love most. Tell them to love and obey their superiors and not to forget that things I ask. Do not forget to consecrate yourself to me on October."
The Lady finally identified herself: "I am Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace. I shall bless the community morning and evening." Blessing the novice, the Lady disappeared.
Teresita Suffers the Passion of Christ and had other Mystical Experiences
On Friday, November 5, the Sisters witnessed Teresita suffer the Passion of Our Lord. At noon, Teresita lost consciousness and has outstretched arms as if being crucified, her feet taking the same position as Jesus on the cross. She suffered the three-hour agony of Jesus. The Seven Last Words were reenacted through Teresita. At exactly three o'clock, the exact time commemorating the death of Christ, Teresita bowed her head--the sisters thought she really died.
It is also reported that Teresita had other mystical experiences such as receiving Holy Communion from an angel on occasions when she was unable to attend Holy Mass because she was sick in bed. She had visions of the Sacred Heart, of many angels and saints including Saint Cecilia and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.
Teresita also claimed to have received secrets from the Blessed Virgin. She said that there was one for herself, one for the Carmelite community of Lipa, one for the world, and one for China.
Mother Cecilia on the other hand was said to be a recipient of 'interior locutions' or an inner voice telling her to assist Teresita during her sufferings.
The Final Apparition of Our Lady in Lipa Carmel
The Lady appeared for the last time at the vine and gave her most important message to Teresita and for the whole world: "Pray my child. The people do not listen to my words. Tell my daughters that there will be persecutions, unrest and bloodshed in your country. The enemy of the Church will try to destroy the Faith which Jesus had established and died for. The Church will suffer much. Pray for the conversion of sinners throughout the world. Pray for those who rejected me and those who do not believe my messages in the different parts of the world. I am really sad but consoled by those who believe and trust me. Spread the meaning of the Rosary because this will be the instrument for peace throughout the world. Tell my people that the Rosary must be prayed with devotion. Spread the devotion to My Immaculate Heart. Do penance for priests and nuns. But do not be afraid, for the love of My Son will soften the hardest of hearts and my motherly love will be their strength to crush the enemies of God. What I ask here is the same I asked at Fatima. I bless this community in a very special way. All these can be revealed now. I repeat to you that I am Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace. This is my last apparition on this place." The Lady ascended to the clouds and vanished.
The Shower of Rose Petals Continues
A few days later after the final apparition of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, the incredible phenomenon of the shower of rose petals started to occur outside the monastery. Hundreds and then, thousands of people started to flock to Lipa Carmel to witness the rain of roses from heaven.
The Bishop of Lipa, Monsignor Alfredo Verzosa was furious about the new phenomenon and so, he ordered a halt to the public veneration of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace. On November 19, he rushed to visit the sisters in order to put an end to the events at Carmel. When he was about to enter the door; he was stunned when he was greeted by the shower of rose petals. Since then, he had a change of heart. He allowed the image of the Mediatrix to be displayed again at the glass window for veneration by the faithful. He also gave permission for the release of the official account.
The pilgrims who flocked to Lipa Carmel with the hopes of witnessing a petal shower increased in great numbers as months passed. The public's fascination towards Lipa was overwhelming. Almost every day, news coverage about the apparitions and the rose petal showers were a daily staple in the various national and international media. It is reported that on November 11, 1949, the First Lady of the Commonwealth at that time, Mrs. Aurora Quezon, and her entourage went on pilgrimage to Carmel and witnessed the phenomenon of the rose petal showers. Bishop Alfredo Obviar testified that he also witnessed the miracle of the roses.
The Miracles and Healings
Many miraculous cures and conversions were reported by the use of the rose petals from Lipa. The blind were restored to sight and the sick were healed. The most publicized was the cure of a one-year old baby named Maria Socorro Mendoza Dichoso who was born with a soft head and had a hole on her skull.
When her mother went on pilgrimage to Lipa Carmel, she was given a rose petal by the nuns. Socorro's mother made a novena to Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Grace and then applied the petal on the child's head. The hole on the baby's skull suddenly disappeared and the brain receded. This healing was confirmed by x-rays.
One outstanding cure was that of Melania Maria Sunga of Candon, Ilocos Sur who was a 9 year old child then suffering from 'club foot'. Her foot was so deformed that it was wasted away to almost skin and bones. She made her way to school by limping and jumping. In 1949, her uncle who was a seminarian during the Lipa apparitions, now Bishop Edmundo Abaya, gave her mother a bottle of water that was placed overnight beside the statue of the Mediatrix of All Grace. Melania's mother also made a novena to the Blessed Virgin and then applied the Lipa water.
One morning, Melania walked around the house and to the amazement of her family, her club foot had straightened out. This caused excitement among the family and neighbors. Neighbors remarked when they noticed a strong fragrance of roses around the Sunga residence. Meanwhile, the Sunga family was amazed when they witnessed a shower of rose petals right in their own home.
The statue of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace also became the focus of attention after some time: pilgrims reported to witness the statue coming to life and moving in its glass case. The eyes of the Virgin's statue were raised and seen gazing afar. The pilgrims also witnessed the rosary moving, as if the statue was fingering the rosary.
The Carmel Chapel
On January 23, 1949, the cornerstone was laid for the future Church of Our Lady, Mary Mediatrix of All Grace, officiated by Bishop Alfredo Obviar. About thirty to fifty thousand pilgrims were present for the event. The Church was completed within two years and was funded entirely by donations of the pilgrims.
Soon the events at Lipa were abused by some, especially through commercialization: fake rose petals were sold and issued to pilgrims. The Carmel of Lipa suffered a series of trials one after another. On January 23, 1950 Bishop, Verzosa was suddenly transferred without prior notice from Lipa and virtually all episcopal power was handed over to an Apostolic Administrator.
After that, Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus, was ordered to leave Lipa Carmel and was replaced with a new mother prioress. Bishop Obviar was also relieved of his duties as Auxiliary Bishop of Lipa. Soon, people and the media started to accuse to accuse the nuns of 'orchestrating' the petal showers with the use of a blower and also of enriching themselves.
Teresita was interrogated by psychologist, Father Angelo Blas, O.P. a Dominican priest from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He was reported to have attempted to have her renounce the apparitions. She refused to do so. A psychiatrist, Dr. Pardo reportedly intimidated the visionary to make her admit that she was insane and was just seeking attention. There were also reports that they forced Teresita to so sign a false document but she refused. However, a final report by Father Blas stated: "Teresita Castillo is perfectly normal and not suffering from hallucinations or other mental disorder."
The Negative Verdict and the Suppression
The official investigation concluded that "events at Lipa Carmel including the rose petal showers exclude any supernatural invention." The signatories were; Archbishop Gabriel Reyes of Manila, Bishop Cesar M. Guerrero of San Fernando, Bishop Mariano Madriaga of Lingayen, Bishop Rufino Santos- Administrator of Lipa, Bishop Vicente Reyes-Auxiliary Bishop of Manila and Bishop Juan Sison,- Auxilary Bishop of Nueva Segovia. The document was also signed by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi.
Several years later, these same bishops who signed the negative report on the events of Lipa Carmel would later confess on their deathbeds that they were coerced to sign a negative verdict against their own free will under pain of excommunication. A thorough investigation appeared to be lacking. Neither Bishop Obviar nor Bishop Verzosa were interviewed by the commission to investigate the apparitions. It is interesting to note that the bishops responsible for the negative verdict on Lipa, kept their rose petals given to them by the nuns.
After the Church's decision was issued; the nuns were ordered to destroy all materials connected to the apparitions. They burned Teresita's diary as well as Mother Mary Cecilia's. The image of Our Lady was also ordered destroyed but the nuns didn't have the strength to do so; they devised means to save it. All who were directly involved in the apparitions were made to suffer. Very strict sanctions were imposed on the Carmelite community at Lipa. The doors of the monastery were closed, not only to applicants to the religious life but also from the outside world. The nuns were even forbidden to see members of their own families. For a long time, Sister Elizabeth, an out sister, single-handedly supported the community through begging. She was the only nun permitted to look after the physical needs of the community.
Teresita on the other hand, left Carmel never to return due to the advice of the new (French) Mother Prioress, Ma Mere, who replaced Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus. She tearfully advised Teresita to leave the monastery on her own volition so that it would enable her to reenter Carmel whenever she would be ready. She was not admitted for profession of vows because she lacked a full year of residency in the convent. This was however due to her trips to Manila for inquiries into the apparitions.
The Lipa apparitions were suppressed for 40 years but the devotees of Mary Mediatrix believed in silence and were obedient to the Church. They were steadfast in their faith that one day, the case would be reopened and the apparitions declared authentic.
In the early 1990's, through the effective investigative reporting of broadcast journalist, June Keithley- Castro, the case on Lipa was reopened. Her report pointed to a less thorough, incomplete and rushed investigation by the bishops who signed the negative verdict which consigned Lipa into oblivion. Since the appearance of her documentary and book on "Lipa" , devotion to the Mediatrix has revived and people stated to make their way on pilgrimages to Lipa Carmel.
Sometime in February, 1990 a new unusual phenomenon was reported in the Granja District of Lipa City. A white luminous silhouette of Our Lady began allegedly to appear every evening on the leaves of a tall coconut tree. The image was visible for 90 consecutive nights. Then on May 21, 1990, Sr. Alphonse, who witnessed Teresing's blindness pleaded on her deathbed that the statue of Our Lady, Mary Mediatrix of All Grace be exposed again for public veneration at the Chapel of the Carmelite Monastery. Her request was granted the very next day.
On January 24, 1991, the shower of rose petals from the sky was reported again in Lipa Carmel. A few days later, a group of six children were playing in the front garden of the Carmel monastery when they saw the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel come to life and shed tears.
The late Archbishop Mariano Gaviola gave permission to display again the statue of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. In March 1993, in the presence of thousands of pilgrims at Carmel, he declared his personal conviction that the Lipa events were "worthy of belief". Since then, pilgrims have flocked to Lipa and every September, the date of the first apparition, became a National Day of Prayer and Consecration.
The Lifting of the Ban
There were more developments that happened when Archbishop Ramon Arguelles took over the Archdiocese of Lipa in 2004. Before an International Mariological Conference held in Lourdes, France on September 2008, Archbishop Arguelles stated bluntly: "Yes, Mary Mediatrix of All Grace did appear in Lipa."
On November 12, 2009, the anniversary of the last apparition of Mary Mediatrix, Archbishop Arguelles took a big step forward in resolving the issue on the Marian apparitions at Lipa. He issued a decree stating that "all bans written or unwritten to curtail or diminish the devotion to Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace be lifted." He also formed a theological commission to review the documents related to the events of Lipa in 1948.
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles further stated: "I believe that the Mediatrix phenomenon is the most significant event in the local Church of Lipa in the last one hundred years. Undeniably, the Blessed Virgin Mary is extremely active during the last decades. If she had indeed shown her presence and delivered her message in various places throughout the world even in some nations in Asia, how can this 'pueblo amante de Maria" be different and excluded from her powerful intervention?"
The devotees of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace are now eagerly waiting for the official findings of the new commission and the final pronouncement of the Archdiocese of Lipa on the apparitions.