Lipa Marian phenomenon ‘worthy of belief’
Finally, after 67 years, has skepticism turned into belief?
Initially marked by doubts and investigations by overbearing Catholic Church authorities but buttressed by the unflinching stand of eyewitnesses and believers who were either silenced, chastised or banished, the so-called Marian apparitions and showers of rose petals that occurred in the Carmelite monastery in Lipa City have been officially recognized as true and, therefore, a wellspring of faith and devotion.
On Sept. 12, Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles of the Archdiocese of Lipa issued a decree declaring “with moral certainty” that the events of 1948 were indeed “worthy of belief.”
The archbishop decreed:
“Therefore, I, by the grace of God and the authority of the Apostolic See, the seventh bishop of this local church of Lipa, the fifth archbishop of this Metropolitan See, the most unworthy servus ancillae filius, declare with moral certainty and with the best intentions and hopes in mind, seeking the compliance of the norms of the Holy See, acting for the greater glory of God and ascertaining always greater love for Holy Mother the Church, that the events and apparition of 1948, also known as the Marian phenomenon in Lipa and its aftermath, even in recent times do exhibit supernatural character and are worthy of belief.”
“Thus I encourage the devotion to the Most Holy Mother Mary under her revered and worthy title Mediatrix of All Grace.”
Mary the Intercessor
The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, the day the decree was issued, is now also observed in the archdiocese as the Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace.
The title, according to the account of Teresita Castillo, who claimed in 1948 that Mary appeared to her several times and gave messages, was how Mary called herself.
The Marian apparitions were followed by showers of rose petals in the Carmelite monastery and witnessed by other nuns.
Mediatrix is a Latin word that means mediator or intercessor.
Castillo, a 21-year-old Carmelite postulant in 1948, underwent rigorous investigation and psychiatric examination. She was later made to leave the monastery on the dictates of Church authorities but much to the sorrow of her religious superior. She, however, kept in touch with the Carmelite nuns and never wavered.
Castillo is now 88 years old and, according to her adopted daughter Grace, is in frail health.
Castillo’s written account on the Marian apparitions and messages, “I Am Mary Mediatrix of All Grace,” was published in 2008. She also wrote about what she and several Carmelites underwent during the investigations.
The Carmelite monastery in Lipa is only one of more than a dozen Carmelite monasteries in the Philippines. Reformed by St. Teresa of Avila in the 1500s, the Carmelite Orders’ contemplative nuns live lives dedicated to prayer and sacrifice.
Other popular saints of the Carmelite Order are St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John of the Cross. Hundreds of missionary religious congregations all over the world have drawn their charism and rule from the Carmelite Order.
Before pronouncing the Lipa events as “worthy of belief” in his decree’s last paragraphs, Arguelles gave an informative, historical backgrounder to what he called “the Marian phenomenon.”
Arguelles said that the title of Mediatrix of All Grace had already been used in ages past by the early Church Fathers.
In 1942, he said, the bishops of China consecrated the Church of China to Mary Mediatrix to assure the fidelity of Catholics during the most trying times.
It might have sounded strange then but mentioned in Castillo’s published account was a Marian “secret message” she received on Oct. 17, 1949: “Pray hard for China’s dream to invade the whole world. The Philippines is one of its favorites. Money is the evil force that will lead the people of the world to destruction.”
Fast forward to 2015: The Philippines and China are now in a tug-of-war over areas within Philippine territory that China claimed and seized without warning. The Philippines has filed a protest with an international body.
Arguelles mentioned how Castillo and several others associated with the apparition “endured severe sufferings, giving proof of the realization of the Marian warning: ‘You will suffer, you will be ridiculed, but fear not, because your faith will bring you to heaven.’”
The first Filipino bishop of Lipa at that time, who believed that the events were true, was removed and sent back to his hometown in Ilocos Sur. He was Bishop Alfredo Verzosa whose cause for beatification is now being pursued.
But despite the so-called silencing, the bishops of Digos and Kidapawan in Mindanao consecrated their dioceses to Mary Mediatrix.
Journalists who covered the events at that time would later recall how their reports were met with skepticism.
‘Globes of light’
Forty-three years later, in the 1990s, Castillo again began receiving Marian messages. But this time, she wrote, they came as “globes of light” and voices only.
Again, several “showers of rose petals” were reported to have taken place in the monastery but the Carmelites of Lipa did not speak openly about it.
In his decree, Arguelles narrated that the 1951 Church document declaring the events as a hoax was later overturned by bishops’ signed testimonies that were notarized toward the end of their lives.
It was only in 1992 when Archbishop Mariano Gaviola lifted the 1951 ban and openly expressed his belief in the authenticity of the 1948 Marian apparitions.
And so began the open devotion to Mary Mediatrix of All Grace.
The late media personality and Edsa heroine, June Keithley, was among those who pursued the reopening of the Lipa case. A Marian devotee, she produced a documentary on the events.
As archbishop of Lipa, Arguelles said he sanctioned the yearly Marian pilgrimages to Lipa starting on Sept. 12, 2004, drawing devotees from both the Philippines and abroad.
In 2009, he reinforced the Gaviola declaration by encouraging devotion to Mary Mediatrix.
In love with Mary
Arguelles described the Philippines as “pueblo amante de Maria” (a country in love with Mary) that “shows and leads the world in the effort to preserve the integrity of creation, to renew itself according to the standpoint of faith in God, to reject the prevalence of materialism, secularism and atheism, to uphold the culture of goodness, love, generosity, selflessness, sharing and solidarity among individuals and nations.”
Mother Mary Grace Rillo, OCD, prioress of Carmel in Lipa, reacted to the archbishop’s decree with joy.
“I can’t get over this,” she told the Inquirer. But she also added: “Pray for the archbishop. He’s in for a crucifixion. Pray for us, too, for vigilance, for holiness.”
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