Did Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, Appear in Lipa?

(In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, the 22nd Mariological Congress was held in Lourdes last September 2008.  Archbishop Ramón C. Argüelles of Lipa was one of the speakers. This condensed version of his talk appeared in the January-March 2008 issue of the Totus Tuus Maria magazine.)

It was during the episcopate of Bishop Alfredo Versoza (1916-1950), the first Filipino bishop of Lipa and his auxiliary bishop, the then Msgr. Alfredo Obviar, the so-called Marian Apparitions in the Monastery of Carmel in Lipa (founded 1946) took place.

Teresita Castillo celebrated her 21st birthday on July 4, 1948 by “escaping” early in the morning at five from her father’s house to enter the Carmelite Monastery of Lipa. She is the youngest of seven children of former Batangas Governor Modesto Castillo. At the time of the apparitions, Teresita’s father was the Judge of the Court of Industrial Relations. The Castillos were very influential and distinguished both in the town of Tanauan and the whole Batangas province.

Teresita’s entrance into the monastery was not well received initially by the family, who tried all means to get her back. Teresita steadfastly refused to return home, preferring to follow God’s call. The trials of Teresing did not escape the devil’s interest. Satan tried to draw her away from her chosen vocation. On the 31st of July, at fifteen past eight in the evening, moment of great silence as observed by the Carmelite community, Teresita was startled by knockings at her door. A male voice introduced himself as satan, while emitting foul odor in her cell. The postulant would be subjected to such infernal visits several times in the next days and weeks.

At around five in the afternoon of September 12, 1948, Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, postulant Teresing Castillo saw the vine in the garden shake though there was no wind at all. A woman’s voice was heard to say: “Fear not my child. Kiss the ground. Whatever I tell you to do, you must do. For fifteen consecutive days, come to visit me here in this spot. Eat some grass, my child.”

The next day, September 13, Monday, again at five in the afternoon, the postulant returned to the place, knelt down and intended to say the Hail Mary. She has only recited until the phrase “Full of Grace” when again the vine moved. A beautiful Lady appeared, her hands clasped on her breast, a golden rosary hanging in her right hand, slightly stooping, her dress was simple and pure white held in the waist by a narrow cloth belt. Her feet were bare and resting on clouds about two feet above ground. Her face, indescribably beautiful, was radiant.

On September 14, Tuesday, the first shower of rose petals took place. Some nuns, awakening early in the morning, found fresh rose-petals of exceptional sweetness, strewn around their rooms or outside their quiet doors. Again at five in the afternoon, the Lady as if enfolding the postulant in a tender maternal embrace said “I wish this place to be blessed tomorrow”. ‘At what time Mother?’ asked Teresing. “Anytime your Mother prioress wants, my child. I forbid you to forget the incidents of these fifteen days”, the Lady said. Then she disappeared.

Meantime, Mother Prioress decided to consult His Excellency, the Most Reverend Alfredo Obviar, auxiliary bishop of Lipa and spiritual director of Carmel, on what to do with the alleged apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The bishop instructed Mother Prioress to tell Postulant Teresing to demand from the Blessed Virgin some proof that the apparition was from heaven.

Days after the first shower of petals, total blindness afflicted the postulant. Mother Prioress heard a voice telling her that the only way Teresing’s blindness would be healed was for her to kiss the eyes of the postulant. Mother asked the bishop to be present at a face off with Teresing. So one day in the presence of Bishop Obviar, the Mother Prioress lifted the veil of Postulant Teresing and imparted a kiss in her eyes. Instantly the girl recovered her sight. Her blindness was cured. Bishop Obviar doubted no more that the apparitions were heavenly.

Here are some of the messages of the Lady to Teresing:

"I want a statue of mine to be placed here. I want you to describe me to your chaplain because I want it to be as you see me, and as big as the statue of Lourdes that is in the cloister. Tell Mother Prioress to have the rosary recited by the community here every afternoon during these days. Clean this part of the garden so that it will be a real place of prayer."

On September 26, Sunday, the last (15th) day of the apparitions, the Lady said: “My child, you must love and obey your mother. Tell the sisters to love and obey their superiors and not to forget the things I ask. I shall not ask bigger things from you as you expect, because you are my little ones. Do not forget to consecrate yourselves to me on October 7.  Be very good, I am Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace. I shall always bless the community morning and evening.” Departing for the last time, the Blessed Virgin identified Herself as: “Mediatrix of All Grace.”

The Lipa phenomenon is often and principally associated with the shower of rose-petals. Such took place also on September 30, the fifty-first anniversary of the death of St’ Therese of the Child Jesus. Rose-petals were strewn in the cells of the monastery.  Likewise on October 3, feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. During those times, the shower of rose-petals fell on the staircase. Most showers took place within the cloister. Later however they also fell outside the monastery at the sight of many visitors. On November 11, Mrs. Aurora Quezon, the wife of the late President of the Commonwealth, and her party witnessed such shower of roses at the monastery grounds. Bishop Alfredo Obviar himself stated that petals fell on his feet as he went out of the door of the nunnery:

“I was inside the parlor of the Carmelite monastery.  The windows and doors were closed. When I was about to step out of the door, outside, several rose-petals fell on my feet, to my great surprise. I picked up some of them.”

The then Supreme Court Chief Justice Manuel Moran fervently remarked:

“The miracle of the shower of rose-petals at the Carmelites’ convent in Lipa City is not the work of man but of God. There can be no doubt about it. If I am not absolutely convinced, I would not waste my time coming to this place.”

Most petals bore images of Jesus or Mary or St. Joseph or one of the saints, most particularly, St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

The 1948 apparitions in Lipa highlighted the Blessed Virgin’s plea for humility, penance, prayers for priests and for the Holy Father. As in Lourdes and Fatima the Blessed Mother insisted on the need to pray the Rosary. Our Lady complained about the people losing faith. Teresita added that there was a secret for herself, another for the Carmelite convent in Lipa City and one for China.

The Negative Church Verdict

The veneration of Our Lady Mediatrix of all Grace was permitted by Bishop Verzosa. However on April 11, 1951 the Philippine church hierarchy issued ‘The Verdict’ in a document which read:

“We, the undersigned Archbishops and bishops, constituting for the purpose a special commission, having attentively examined and reviewed the evidence and testimonies collected in the course of repeated, long and careful investigations, have reached the unanimous conclusion and hereby officially declare the above-mentioned evidence and testimonies exclude any supernatural intervention in the reported extraordinary happenings –including the showers of petals– at the Carmel of Lipa.”

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, Auxiliary Bishop of Nueva Segovia. The document was also signed ‘concordat cum originali’ by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi.

Bishop Rufino Santos, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Lipa, followed up such declaration with a decree that went this way:

Having been declared by the Special Commission composed of several members of the Philippine Hierarchy that, after long, repeated and careful investigations, the evidences and testimonies on the matter exclude any supernatural intervention in the reported extraordinary happenings –including the shower of petals—at the Carmel of Lipa, I, the undersigned Apostolic Administrator of Lipa Diocese, in keeping with the Decree-Statement of the said Episcopal Commission, BY THESE PRESENT LETTERS dispose and order:

1) No petals nor water should be given out to anyone;

2) The statue of Our Lady (actually in the church) should be retired from public veneration;

3) All out-sisters must be admitted within the enclosure for the time being, excepting Sr. Elizabeth, who shall remain outside to attend to the needs of the Community; and finally

4) All visits are suspended temporarily, no letters will be allowed, until final decision on the matter will come from The Holy See.

The decree was issued at the City of Lipa on April 12, 1951.

The Tragic Aftermath

Bishop Verzosa was forced to resign and sent back to his hometown in Vigan, Ilocos Sur in Northern Philippines. The Auxiliary Bishop, Most Reverend Alfredo Obviar was moved to Lucena, a newly erected diocese, where he served as a mere apostolic administrator for the next twenty-two years. In 1974 he was finally given full episcopal powers as the resident bishop of Lucena Diocese. On October 1, 1979, Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the bishop died a holy death, having declared earlier: “They can oblige me to keep silent; but they can never compel me to say it was not true.”

In recent years more and more people go on Pilgrimage to his tomb in the Mother House of the Sisters’ Congregation he founded in 1958, the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese. Numerous reports of miracles are ascribed to this so-termed ‘saint of Holy Obedience’. Bishop Obviar’s cause for beatification has been introduced and is progressing well.

On the other hand, the memory of Bishop Alfredo Versoza, buried in the Cathedral of Vigan and overlooked for four decades, is now the object of research. He too has been invoked for favors miraculously granted. His cause for possible beatification is being considered.

Mother Prioress and the other perpetually professed sisters, notably Sister Mary of St. Joseph, the sub-prioress, and Sr. Mary Anne, the infirmarian, were purposely separated and dispersed to other Carmels. They suffered and died also in the odor of sanctity.

Meanwhile all materials connected with the apparitions were ordered destroyed. Teresita’s diary, as well as that of Mother Prioress, were burned. The statue was also destined for ruin, but the nuns quietly kept it away, saving it from oblivion. The convent was sealed, and the nuns could talk to no one outside of the convent. These events confirm the Blessed Mother’s warning that there would be persecution.

Teresita was subjected to investigation by the ‘commission’. As far as she was concerned the investigating commission consisted only of Bishop Rufino Santos, Bishop Cesar Guerrero, Fr. Blas, OP, and another Dominican priest. Cardinal Santos was always kind to her but would get her any unholy hour and brought to Manila for investigation often times with little time to prepare. Finally, Ma Mére, the French prioress made to replace Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus, tearfully advised Teresita to leave the convent on her own volition so that she could later be readmitted when she would be ready. She could not be admitted for profession because she failed to stay a full year in the novitiate. This was however due to her being often brought hastily to Manila for inquiry. If she chose to remain, the prioress will be forced to send her out depriving her of the possibility to reapply. She returned then to her parents. But, later, each time she would ask to return to the cloister, she would be required to have a medical clearance due to her health. Her health admittedly has never been satisfactory due to the traumatic experiences she endured during interrogations. At one point, because she refused to sign a declaration stating that the apparitions were a hoax, a priest-investigator threw the ash tray at her, fortunately missing her. No medical clearance was ever granted her. The story of the apparitions was buried for 40 years, though the faithful believed in silence and persisted in praying to the Mediatrix of All Grace.

Years After

Almost forty years after, on February 11, 1990, Reverend Father Lorenzo Maria Guerrero, SJ, nephew of Bishop Cesar Guerrero of San Fernando, executed an affidavit asserting:

“that while my uncle, Bishop Cesar Gerrero, was still alive, I heard from his lips that he signed the above Official Statement under duress,: and “that the said Bishop had expressed his personal belief in the fact of the apparitions of Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace in the Carmelite Convent of Lipa during the year of 1948.”

The late Bishop Godofredo Pedernal, who worked with Bishop Obviar for twenty-five years as Vicar General and Episcopal vicar, testified that, while accompanying Bishop Obviar in the sixties to console his dying friends, Bishop Guerrero, Archbishop Cuenco and Archbishop Sison, he heard Bishop Obviar ask: “Why did you sign that declaration about the foolishness of the Lipa Carmel Sisters?” The three bishops would silently show their own rose petals and replied: “We were forced to sign.”

Sometime in February 1990 a strange new phenomenon was reported in the Granja District of Lipa City. A white glowing outline of a female in prayer began allegedly to appear nightly on one of the leaves of a tall coconut tree. It was visible only in the evenings. Then on May 21, 1990, Sr. Alphonse pleaded on her deathbed that the Mediatrix statue be exposed again in the chapel at the Carmelite convent. Her request was granted the very next day. She died on that day. For the first time the statue was displayed after 40 years! On January 24, 1991, rose petals began to fall straight from the sky again at the Carmelite convent in Lipa City. A few days later, six children playing in the front garden of the monastery saw the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at the monastery grounds come to life and shed tears.

Archbishop Mariano Gaviola granted the permission to display again the image of the Mediatrix of All Grace. The year after, he declared his personal conviction that the Lipa apparitions were worthy of belief. Miracles of physical and spiritual healing took place. Once more again there were reports of showers of rose-petals. Stories of marvelous happenings, as in the late forties, pile up. The faithful never really ceased visiting Carmel in spite of the 1951 decree. The number of pilgrims however swelled since the revival in the early nineties.

Archbishop Gaviola created a new commission headed by then auxiliary bishop now emeritus, Most Reverend Salvador Quizon and largely documentarily accomplished by Justice Hariet Demetriou. Documents from then surviving persons who experienced the events in the late forties as well as new evidences of wonders grew rapidly. Unfortunately, Archbishop Gaviola retired. Was he overwhelmed by sufferings due to what he did for the Blessed Virgin Mary? His successor did not do anything about the said phenomenon except asserting that the authorities of the early fifties could not have been less competent in their investigation than those fifty years after. That means that any recent investigations can never convincingly correct the conclusions done decades ago. The Gaviola commission ceased its inquiry.

Did Mary really appear in Lipa?

From the very start I, the Archbishop of Lipa since July 1994, had never put into doubt the truth of the so-called Marian happenings in Lipa. As a child I was brought there together with my other siblings by my parents. I have frequented the place since then. As a young seminarian, then priest and bishop, I would come to Lipa Carmel to willingly and trustingly entrust to Mary, my concerns, my whole life and all my activities, ignoring the controversies which had enveloped the events from the outset and which lingered thereafter. I have not personally met, nor known nor bothered about Teresing Castillo until years later as a newly ordained bishop.

The controversies surrounding the Lipa apparitions did not at all worry me as a young bishop. I could not fail to notice, in the meantime, how the events in Lipa have taken a new turn since I was a child. Lipa has gained the reputation of being Mary’s privileged place. In fact people from all over do not hesitate to consider it as the Marian capital of the Philippines.

Things became more complicated for me upon my appointment as LipaArchbishop in 1994. I realized I have become part of the controversy. The intricacies of the past that overflow into the present have upset me for the last more than four years. People expect much from me who am reputed to be a profoundly Marian bishop. Some even sort of pressure me to declare the authenticity of the Marian apparitions, so that when asked if I will now give official approval to the Lipa phenomenon, my getaway response is: “Archbishop Ramón Argüelles has long approved it; the present Lipa Archbishop however has not.” Time and again I feel at fault for seemingly dodging the issue. Fellow Marians would prick my conscience by saying: “It is the Blessed Mother Who wants you in Lipa. And for a purpose.” An easy way for me to steer clear of arguments is to state that regardless of the truth or non-truth of the 1948 events, the Mediatrix of All Grace remains a mystery tied up with and to a certain extent advanced by Lipa. Yet deep inside I sense that more is demanded of me.

Pilgrimage to Lipa never ceased. Every 12th of the month people will congregate at the Cathedral and make a penitential procession to the Carmelite Monastery of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, at three in the afternoon. Likewise on first Saturdays increasing crowds join the five o’clock dawn procession from the Cathedral to the monastery ending with the six o’clock morning mass. I often join the procession and preside the Mass. Moreover for the five consecutive years, September 12, the so-called first apparition day, has been declared by government as a National Day of Prayer and Reconciliation. The consecration of the entire nation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary during the afternoon Eucharist is the key point of the annual Pilgrimage to, what forty years ago Bishop Versoza called, Our Lady of Lipa.

The research silently goes on. More and more testimonies need yet to be examined to determine whether the events deserve to be believed in as they are already believed in by many. What more interesting testimony can be had than that coming from the supposed visionary. Sister Teresing is allowed by God to live long. She is already eighty-one. Those who love the Blessed Mother can reflect on her story with her. It is up to the reader or listener to judge whether Sister Teresing is credible or not, if her experience is subjective and if it deserves to be conveyed to numerous souls.  But it is my opinion that we have to thank Sister Teresing for telling us the story of Mary in Lipa and for suffering with Bishop Versoza, Bishop Obviar and the other professed nuns of that time.

There is in fact some kind of parallelism in the statements of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes and in Lipa. Teresing was told by the Virgin: “For fifteen consecutive days, come to visit me here in this spot”. Bernadette on the other hand was told: “Will you do me the favor of coming here for fifteen days?” The Virgin revealed to Teresing: “My daughter, sufferings and trials will be with you until the end of your life”. To Bernadette: “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next!” Again to Teresing: “My child, kiss the ground and eat a little grass.” To Bernadette: “Go on your knees, kiss the ground in penance for sinners” To Teresing: “I wish this place to be blessed tomorrow.” To Bernadette: “Go, tell the priests that I want that a Chapel be built here!” To Teresing: “I am Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace” To Bernadette: “Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou.”

Can the documents issued in April 1951 be considered a genuine document expressing the definitive stand of the official Church of that time regarding the Lipa apparitions? First, it cannot be considered a final document from the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines since only an Archbishop (Gabriel Reyes of Manila), a resident bishop (Cesar Guerrero of San Fernando), an apostolic administrator of the place at issue (Rufino Santos) and three other auxiliary bishops (Sison of Nueva Caceres, Madriaga of Dagupan and Reyes of Manila) signed the document ‘as Archbishops and bishops, constituting for the purpose a special commission’. Second, vis-à-vis the fervor of the many ordinary faithful, there is yet the so-called claim of many of the bishops that they believe in the miracles while those who signed claimed that they were under duress.  Third, except for the above-mentioned documents, no record can be shown either by the Carmelite Generalate in Rome nor by the Nunciature as well as the Vatican archives themselves. Of course it is possible that the records of the fifties are not made available by Rome nor by the Nunciature for some reasons only they know. But for the sake of the Truth, and for the good of the faithful, such questions must be answered. Finally, as noted by the late Archbishop Mariano Gaviola, no document from Rome has, as of now, been issued us mentioned in the decree of then Apostolic Administrator Bishop Rufino Santos.

Did she really appear in Lipa?

Did Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace appear in Lipa? I as simply, Ramón C. Argüelles, will readily say, like many others in the Philippines and elsewhere (in fact I will never ever regret saying this: “Yes, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, did appear in Lipa.” It is not only in the fifties that most of the bisops believed in the Lipa Apparitions. Today, many bishops, surely led also by the simple faith of many faithful, believe that the Lipa events were not invented. God and Mary surely favored our land, especially the province of Batangas.

As Archbishop of Lipa, however, due to the unfortunate and confusing historical circumstances that may not be ignored, obviously I vacillate in making a clear-cut pronouncement. Certainly I am privately and silently doing, and I know I must officially initiate, a new inquiry. But no doubt, whatever be the outcome of any serious and thorough research the Archdiocese of Lipa, the City of Lipa or the whole Batangas Province will not become less a specially celebrated place where Mary is intensely honored, loved and sought.  A final Church statement may be most desirable by a good number of devotees. But the majority of the faithful will not at all be affected by whatever position the official Church will take. They will go on believing that Mary is powerfully present to her people in this place.

Personally and officially it is my earnest prayer and wish that Mary had truly appeared before and will still reveal herself in Lipa, and even everywhere, to tell the whole world that She is indeed Mediatrix of All Grace. Her call to prayer, penance, return to her Son Jesus, to humility, simplicity and fidelity to God is even more pressing in today’s world. Lipa is a blessed and marvelous site to hear and heed this maternal plea.