When I woke up that morning, my grandmother was not in her bedroom. Where did she go, without me? Then the doorbell rang; I scurried to the window in time to see her walking down the driveway in her usual brown frock, but on flat shoes. How strange that she had not taken the family car and driver to wherever it was she went. Why did you leave me behind?– I demanded to know. She visited a convent in Lipa where the Blessed Virgin appeared to a nun. Reverently, she unfolded a white handkerchief, held up a crystal locket for me to see a rose petal with Our Lady’s image. It was September 1948; we had barely recovered from the horrors of the Battle for Manila. Religion was a means of catharsis for my grandma and many other Filipinos like her.
Something beyond me was going on! Friends and relatives streamed in and out of our house on Donada street to pray with my grandma as they gazed fervently at the miraculous rose petal. My grandfather made cynical remarks under his breath. As for Mommy, her mind was a beehive of doubts; she was by then an audacious reporter for the “Evening News”. She argued about the apparition’s plausibility, but never covered it. The “santo y sabio” Bishop Cesar Maria Guerrero, my grandpa’s brother, was a fervent believer. Why shouldn’t the Mother of God appear to a humble native postulant? Bishop Alfredo Verzosa also believed in the supernatural character of the apparition, so he was banished to a faraway Ilocano parish. As expected, the Papal Nuncio, Edigio Vagnozzi, relentlessly denied the apparition which stoked rumors that he accused the Carmelites of scattering rose petals using an electric fan.
By 1951, when the great dissenter, Bishop Rufino Santos, became the Apostolic Administrator of Lipa, he cuttingly disallowed the veneration of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. While waiting for the Pope’s dictum, he forbade the display of the image in public and warned the nuns about surreptitiously distributing rose petals. The hapless postulant, Teresita Castillo, was incessantly maligned until she abandoned her vocation and left the Carmelite convent.
As the apparition slipped into history, my grandma sustained her belief in Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. She bought a big statue, enthroned it in her room and circulated the miraculous petal among sick relatives who quickly recovered their health. My grandma’s faith was a virtue, never a vulnerability.
Recently, I came upon a video interview of Atty. Harriet Demetriou, erstwhile Sandiganbayan justice and chairperson of the Commission on Elections, who describes herself as the lawyer of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace. Harriet took up the cudgels after she was cured of a kidney disease by drinking water where a miraculous petal was soaked. She laments that the attacks against the apparition were revived after Bishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa affirmed its supernatural character on 12 September 2015, and enjoined us to continue with the devotion. After 3 months, on 16 December, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference claimed that the Vatican had long denied the supernatural character of the apparition in a decree signed by Pope Pius XII in 1951. However, veneration of Mary Mediatrix of All Grace was allowed in private, but strictly detached from the apparition at the Carmelite convent in Lipa. No one has ever seen Pope Pius XII’s document, nor a copy of the same, affirmed Atty. Demetriou in the interview. Fortuitously, Pope Francis I has opened the archives of the Vatican to scholars and researchers; Atty. Demetriou is confident that we will find out if that dictum really exists.
Through the years, members of the clergy who believe in the apparition have suffered unjust vexation; for example, the saintly Archbishop Alfredo Verzosa was banished to the Ilocos, Bishop Ramon Arguelles was removed from Lipa after he declared in 2015 that the apparition had supernatural character. A band of exorcist priests led by a Fathers Sy’quia and Zerrudo denounced the Carmelite convent as “demoniacally infested”. Other bishops and priests who did not toe the line were threatened with ex-communication. Atty. Demetriou revealed that Arch. Socrates Villegas and Luis Cardinal Tagle are among those who unconscionably “attack” the Blessed Virgin. Yet, the devotion to Mary Mediatrix of All Grace is gaining strength. The Carmelite postulant who was denigrated because she saw the mother of God has finally been exonerated, after death.
In 1531, the Aztecs were decimated due to the brutal Spanish conquest and had lost their will to live. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego on 12 December. A demoniacal hoax! —exclaimed the enraged Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, until the Blessed Virgin imprinted her image on Juan Diego’s tilma and filled it with roses.