Sunday, November 29, 2009

Funeral Mass - La Casa de Bernarda Alba

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Trials of Sr. Teresita Castillo

"Meditate on this and see how much the Mother and Son worked and suffered together to save the world."

-Message of BVM to Sr. Teresita Castillo, 18 Sep. 1948, on the meeting at Calvary

Among the many mystical experiences attributed to Sr. Teresita Castillo during her days at Lipa Carmel, few stand out as much as her reported encounters with the Evil One, in holy ground, no less. But there are others, positive ones, as well.

On her first few nights at the convent, Teresita was said to have been visited by the devil himself. She described him as being enveloped in a foul odor, of short stature (5'5), and having the most repugnant face wreathed in flame. The devil, she said, would often tempt her to leave the holy place, citing the grievances and great pains she had caused her family by her 'disobedience.' Teresita narrates that, on one occasion, the devil finally revealed himself to her. It was a terrible sight, the culminating note in a series of diabolical encounters. She describes how the devil would often mock her and strip her of her clothing; her bed would shake, and her arms would be covered with welts for days at a time. She attributes this to the times the devil would take the discipline from her bedside table and beat her furiously with it. Follows a brief narration of Teresita's final encounter with the Adversary, two days after the Feast of the Immaculate Heart. She had fled to a stairway leading to the prioress' cell when the attack happened.

"I felt that somebody grabbed my hands but I couldn't see anybody. And I said, "Natatalo na ako!" ["I'm losing!"] So I was holding on to the rails, trying to fight for myself, really. I wanted to go up. Fortunately, Mother Cecilia [ the prioress ] was out of her office... And so she saw me, so she went to me and tried to help me, and afterwards she told me that parang [ it was as if ] somebody is also pulling me downstairs whereas Mother Cecilia was pulling me upstairs. So I thought my body would be in halves already!"

Mother Cecilia also reports that she heard Teresita scream at one point in the struggle, "I have no eyes to see your indecencies!" Reportedly, the Devil had been insulting Sr. Teresita's mother, the Prioress, as well as screaming obscenities about the Bishop. The attack lasted all through the night, only ending at the sound of the community bell, at roughly a quarter before five in the morning. It was then that the prioress had discovered that Teresita had become mysteriously blind. The bond that developed between Mother Cecilia and Sr. Teresita was forged in the crucible of mystical experience. In one of her first appearances to Teresita, the Virgin asked her to wash the prioress' feet in a basin and to drink the water after. Many who doubted the veracity of the events of Lipa (and sadly, even some in Carmel!) maliciously cited this incident as proof of a lesbian relationship between the two. We must recall, however, that at Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin also asked Bernadette Soubirous to eat a little grass and to drink of muddy water three times. These are odious to our sensibilities because of our great pride. Thus Teresita's actions were a sign of profound humility, to the great frustration of the Evil One.

Unbeknownst to Sr. Teresita, Mother Cecilia herself had been receiving locutions from the Virgin. She was told by the Virgin that Teresita's eyesight would be restored on 7th September, the eve of Our Lady's Nativity. When that day had come, Bishop Alfredo Obviar, the auxiliary of Lipa, visited Carmel, and was told of Teresita's condition. Teresita herself felt the sign of the cross being made on her eyes, and immediately after that, began to see again. But it was not the signum crucis, but the kiss of the Mother Prioress.

Sr. Teresita, however, would also suffer another mystical phenomenon, although much later, when the apparitions of Our Lady were already taking place. She was said to have had 'visions of the Sacred Heart, of a multitude of angels and saints, of St. Cecilia and St. Therese of Lisieux in particular, and of a Lady with whom she took long walks in a lovely garden full of birds and flowers.' But perhaps most mysteriously of all, Sr. Teresita was also seen to lose consciousness, 'and then to silently re-enact, while lying on the floor, the agony of Christ on the Cross-- a phenomenon witnessed by the Prioress, Bishop Obviar, and the rest of the community.' The Lady had warned her that she would suffer much, and suffer Teresita did. Today, five decades after leaving Carmel, she remains obedient to the command of the Church to remain silent on the apparitions, but that may soon change, as the case of Lipa has been re-opened. Perhaps, that was the greatest suffering she could bear, to keep the message of Our Lady to herself.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Grace

It is official: the Archbishop of Lipa, the Most Reverend Ramon Arugelles, has lifted the almost six-decade long prohibition on the public veneration of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Grace. In 1948, Our Lady reportedly appeared to a young Carmelite novice, Teresita Castillo, reiterating the message of Fatima and revealing herself to be the 'Mediatrix of All Grace.' For fifteen days, Teresita was said to have conversed with the Blessed Mother, who was reported to have appeared on a cloud, and whose coming was heralded by the arrival of a blue bird in the convent gardens. And then, there were the petals. They rained upon the garden in droves, showering the grounds in crimson, the fragrance of which was said to have moved many a devotee to tears. Still more impressive, a large number of the petals seem to have been stamped with images of the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Heart, St. Joseph, and even St. Therese of the Child Jesus. (You may read a truncated summary of the events, and the message, here and here.) In no time at all, the apparitions attracted a growing number of devotees, including the First Lady of the time, Dona Aurora Quezon. In Madrid, a crowd of at least 30,000 strong bore her image in procession; even New York City, one of the most progressive cities in the world, was captured by the spell of Lipa.

But in the span of less than three years, the apparitions were to be declared a hoax, and Sr. Teresita, her prioress, and the whole community of Lipa's Carmel, would suffer the extreme embarrassment of being labeled unscrupulous money makers, faking an appearance of the Virgin for their own ends. The poor Carmelites were called 'the dishonor of the Church', in the words of one nun. For almost fifty years, the Carmelites of Lipa were forbidden to speak of the apparitions under threat of excommunication. And yet, there persist rumors, very strong ones, to this day, that a very human hand was behind the silencing of the events at Lipa. More than one bishop was said to have been made to sign the declaration that the events at Lipa were a hoax. And more intriguing, perhaps, is the shadowy trail that suggests the involvement of some of the Roman Curia as well. What is the message of Lipa, and why was it so hastily disapproved? The purging was so thorough, so severe, that not a single mention of it survives in the archives of the Archdioceses of Manila and Lipa. A large number of the protagonists in the Lipa story are now dead, although Sr. Teresita herself is still alive. Most of the details of the story are now sketchy, since it was ordered that all material concerning the apparitions-- novenas, booklets, and the diaries of the prioress Mother Cecilia and Sr. Teresita herself-- be consigned to the flame. But like the petals that rained from above, the story of Lipa, and the events that transpired there, have resurfaced. In the coming posts, I will try to provide as much information as I can regarding the extraordinary circumstances of those years.

Some background information:

The city of Lipa in Batangas is about two hours' drive south of Manila. In the late 1800s, it was the sole provider of coffee beans in the world, making it one of the most prosperous cities in the country at the time. Some years later, however, a virus would destroy the city's main produce, so much so, that by the start of the second world war, Lipa had shrunk to a shadow of its former glory. The war totally destroyed the city; indeed, it was one of the most devastated cities in the Far East. It is said that almost 20,000 people-- priests, religious, old, young, men, and women-- were herded into the city's diocesan seminary by the Japanese. They were all bayoneted to death, and the seminary set on fire. It was on this site that the Carmelite convent of Lipa would be built.

Sr. Teresita Castillo was the youngest daughter of a very prominent family in the province. She led a sheltered, pampered life, but had always nursed a desire to enter the convent and dedicate herself totally to God. On the morning of her twenty first birthday, she fled to Carmel, and begged to be admitted into the order. Her family tried in vain all day to get her to come out, and reconsider her decision, but she would not budge an inch. That night, her brother, fresh off a drunken spiel, flew into the convent in a rage, and, with his gun pointed at the porter, demanded to see his sister. But Teresita's will was iron; her brother found her prostate in the chapel, her arms spread in the form of the Cross, and left, humiliated by his actions.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Pagoda of Quiapo

The writhing entanglement of wires and rot that forms the heart of Manila-- seedy Quiapo, home of the Black Nazarene and historically home to Chinese and Muslim traders as well as landed Spanish gentry-- is probably one of the most fascinating areas I have ever encountered. I have written so much about the district, especially the Feast that has defined its borders, aesthetics, and faith for centuries, that my readers probably already know more about it than some Filipinos. One of the most interesting structures there is the so-called 'Quiapo Pagoda', originally built as a residence for a wealthy family back in the early days of the twentieth century. From the excellent My Sari Sari Store website:

The Pagoda was built by Jose Mariano Ocampo in 1935 on the northern side of his vast estate, and was to house his realty office. Jose was a realtor but a lawyer by education.

Mr. Ocampo was artistically inclined. He had collections of Philippine paintings, which later would line the walls of the Pagoda. He adored Oriental art, and although he had never traveled to Japan, he dreamed of having his own Japanese pagoda. He began scouring through a collection of photos and pictures from magazines and books and began the painstaking task of designing his pagoda. He hired the best engineers of the day - Maximo Paterno and Juan (?) Cortez - and together they set the foundation of what was to become a landmark of Quiapo.

Ocampo’s pagoda is a blend of Eastern pagoda design and medieval Western architecture.

Mr. Ocampo's office never occupied the Pagoda. A few years after its completion in 1939, World War II broke out and Pagoda was transformed into an air raid shelter. By the end of the war, while the rest of the city was razed and flattened to the ground, the Pagoda survived the bombings.
Although it retains much of its character the Pagoda is now in a dilapidated condition. The tile roofs are falling apart and many of the pre-cast brackets are broken or precariously leaning on edge. It no longer sits on a garden since Ocampo’s heirs sold most of the land. A grand statue of a Chinese-looking Our Lady of Carmel sitting on a globe and carried by exotic looking figures is completely surrounded by houses. You can only access this statue by a small smelly alley.

The Pagoda is a survivor of the war and of a devastating earthquake (1992) during which a portion of the tower broke and fell onto the lower roof. Alas the high cost of maintenance has led to its actual complete deterioration. What a pity!!!
The Pagoda is now a boarding house for sailors waiting for their next assignment. Visitors are not allowed to visit the inside of the Pagoda.

The rest of the photos may be viewed at this link: Filipino Folly: The Pagoda of Quiapo. I really must visit this place soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I apologize for the lack of updates lately. School has started once again, and it is keeping me quite busy. For now, though, please enjoy a pretty picture. This is the Altar of Repose of the church of St. James the Great in Alabang, a suburb in the south of Metro Manila. Also, please say a prayer for me, as I am finding it very difficult to do so at the moment. Thank you.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Scenes From A Cemetery

I visited my grandfather's grave on All Hallows' Eve. It was a gloomy day-- the fourth or fifth storm since the last week of September had just passed by Manila, 'like a thief in the night', according to my mother, howling and whistling in the hours before the gray, overcast dawn that heralded the start of the day. In the cemetery, a good number of people were already camped; some had brought tents to protect themselves from the rain. Flowers on pots were strewn across graves, from the humblest to the most extravagant. We passed by a row of mausoleums that housed some of the oldest and most venerable families of Manila, old colonials with family crests imported from Spain and the rest of Old Europe, and next to them, in some cases at least, those of the new-moneyed Chinese industrialists. We passed by a small 'shelf' where the bones of children who never saw the light of day-- miscarriages and stillborns and such-- were interred. And everywhere, there were candles that glowed coolly in the vast, cold, grayness of it all.

Finally we came to my grandfather's final resting place. He was interred in a small patch of land near the cemetery's walls; immediately behind were the cramped and impossibly small hovels of squatters, many of whom moonlighted as 'caretakers' of the graves. A nasty rumor which was probably true, anyway, held that some of them would sneak into the cemetery at night, taking away the flowers intended for the dead and reselling them for exorbitant prices to the families of the dead, eager to remember their departed kin. The storm, too, made its presence felt in the already gloomy cemetery. Part of the wall had collapsed, and the small creek that lay behind the wall had apparently overflowed. Tree branches were strewn all over the grounds. The grave next to my grandfather's, unfortunately, bore the brunt of it all. It looked as if it had been smashed with a giant mattock. A broken piece of masonry, probably from the old lapida that held the deceased's name, sheltered a weary and injured cat. I offered part of my biscuits to it, but it refused.

We lit some candles for the sake of my grandfather's soul, and left two bouquets of beautiful, white roses at his grave. It had started to rain again, and unfortunately, we had neglected to bring a tent with us. Some families near us were happily sheltered under their tents; I am quite certain more than a few of them would keep to the old tradition of the overnight vigil. Some plots away, two toddlers were playing badminton, unaware of the graves they were stepping on, and thankfully ignorant of the old superstitions that the dead would come to haunt them if their sleep were ever disturbed. I love stories like that. After saying a quick prayer for Lolo, we went on our way and left the cemetery. The visit had taken an hour at most, a lot shorter than what I had expected. As we exited, there was a steady stream of cars still coming in, apparently heedless of the foul weather that blighted Manila.

We left the old colonials and the Chinese industrialists and their grand mausoleums (one of them looked like a suburban home, really) to sleep in peace. We left the unvisited dead, and bade farewell to a former President whose tomb had practically become a shrine, where people would pray the rosary and kneel in humility. And although the rain had stopped, the wind howled and made the trees shake and shudder. They reminded me of the souls of the dead, beseeching the living to take a moment and consider their own mortality.