By Virginia G. Guzman-Manzo, MD
Sixty three years ago, the nation was awed and enraptured for quite a time on that big event which happened in Lipa, Batangas when a 21-year old postulant in the Carmel Convent started experiencing supernatural signs and visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Lady called herself Mediatrix of All Grace.
On several occasions, a shower of sweet rose petals miraculously fell on the convent grounds as well as inside the convent witnessed by the nuns and at least two bishops. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the young postulant, Teresita Castillo, fondly called Teresing, for fifteen consecutive days from September 12-26, 1948.
After an Episcopal commission that investigated the events declared in 1952 that the incident had no evidence of supernatural intervention, the supposed miraculous occurrence was doomed to die a natural death. However, this “death” did not happen. Although it was initially thought to be in the throes of dying because of the ban imposed by the commission, the piety, the enthusiasm and the faith of many people held on quietly yet perseveringly. Many continued to keep in their hearts their belief in the authenticity of the events.
It was not only in Lipa that the devotion persisted up to this day, but also in other parts of the country. Even in far away Digos City in Davao, a church was built and named as the Church of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Grace. The devotion has steadily grown and today, its resurgence is amazing.
And what happened to the visionary, Sister Teresing Castillo? Naturally she suffered a lot because it was obvious that the commission considered the whole event as a hoax. Although she wanted more than anything at that time to be a Carmelite nun, she had to leave the convent because she had become very sickly. For 38 years, she worked with a priest at the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran to compile an English-Tagalog-English dictionary. Although she believed this work was not her mission, at least it occupied her time. She continued suffering in silence and without any complaint but her faith in God and her devotion to the Blessed Mother never waned.
What is Sister Teresing doing nowadays? It could be said that she is somewhat retired in the sense that she has slowed down in the mission she has committed herself to do. She goes to Mass every morning at the Presentation of the Child Jesus Parish in BF Homes Paranaque, Philippines, where she presently resides. I am not acquainted with her personally although I see her almost every morning at Mass. Recently, after Mass one morning, I was fortunate to catch her in an “ambush interview” to which she graciously consented. At that time she was accompanied by a friend, Ms. Leah Isla, who after meeting with Sister Teresing five years ago, was asked by the visionary to help her in her apostolic works, to which Leah open-heartedly accepted. Along with Leah, another lady, Ms. Amelita Zapata, would go with Sister Teresing as the latter carries out her mission in her service to God.
So we settled ourselves at the last pew at the back of the church, with Sister Teresing Castillo seated between me and Leah. The visionary is now showing signs of her age; she talks softly and moves slowly, usually with the help of Leah. She has remained quiet, unostentatious, humble and soft-spoken. Since she has now some difficulty remembering specific things such as dates, names, etc., Leah has been very helpful in helping her jog her memory.
VGM: It has been 63 years since you were in the news nationwide. How are you?
SISTER TERESING: Well, I will be 84 come July 4 this year. As you can see I am not very strong anymore. I walk slowly and sometimes I need someone to hold on to when I walk.
VGM: Yes, I noticed that every time I see you at Mass. Sometimes I even see you in a wheelchair.
SISTER TERESING: Oh yes, some days my back pain bothers me because of inflammation of my sciatic nerve. So I have to use a wheelchair occasionally when I go to Mass.
VGM: Sister Teresing, since the nineties, there have been several renewed efforts to re-investigate and gather more documents to prove the authenticity of what happened in Lipa 63 years ago. In fact, a new commission was set up precisely to gather evidence and put everything to rest. However, up to the present, we have not heard of any formal and definite proclamation from the Holy See as to whether there is a reversal of the original declaration of the first commission in 1952. How do you feel about this?
SISTER TERESING: For me, I have long ago put everything in God’s hands. Whatever is God’s will is my will. I have been interviewed, investigated, and interrogated many times. I have told and retold my story over and over again. I have done my part. After all only God knows what really happened. My faith and my love for Mama Mary will never waver and I will continue to spread the devotion to Our Lady and keep on doing what she wants me to do up to my dying breath.
VGM: Has the Blessed Virgin Mary ever appeared to you or given you indications of her presence after the Lipa event?
SISTER TERESING: Mama Mary did not appear to me anymore after her apparitions in September 1948. But I feel that she is often with me. The shower of rose petals started again in 1991. Between 1991 to 1996, there were at least 10 occasions when there would be rose petals in our prayer room at our house in Tambo, Paranaque. At least one such incident was witnessed by my adopted daughter, Grace. On my birthday on July 4, 1999, I was in the prayer room at Munting Bukal, Tagaytay and I noticed a rose petal clinging to my dress at the middle of my chest. There were no other petals around. But after a while, when I opened my handbag, it was full of rose petals. The following year, again during my birthday in 2000, when I entered the prayer room in our home in BF Homes Paranaque, there were rose petals scattered around. Both incidents in 1999 and 2000 were witnessed by Amelita who was with me on both occasions.
VGM: What do you do with the rose petals? You must have a lot of rose petals in your possession.
SIS TERESING: Oh no, I always give them to the Convent of Carmel in Lipa or to some sick people who come to me for healing. Actually, there is only one rose petal I am keeping with me which is from the original shower of rose petals in Lipa.
VGM: Sister Teresing, what do you do nowadays? What occupies your time? Aside from praying, of course.
SIS TERESING: Well, as you can see, I am not very strong anymore. But in the past I was kept busy trying to spread the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Often I was invited to give talks and conduct healing sessions in parish churches, in seminaries and convents, especially Carmel convents around the country, in schools and offices. Once in a while, I conduct counseling and healing in my house. I have been invited to Indonesia about two or three times to give short talks and conduct healing sessions. Every first Saturday, I go to Lipa for healing sessions at the Marian Center which is next door to the Carmel Convent.
VGM: Aside from talks and healing sessions, what other forms of apostolate do you do?
SISTER TERESING: I give counseling to married couples regarding family issues. I also give blessings to the sick and the dying. I encourage them to go to confession and for anointing of the sick. I have witnessed many conversions which give me a lot of inspiration to go on.
VGM: Oh, you really have done a lot. How active are you now? Don’t you get tired sometimes and wish to just stay in the house and rest and just pray and pray? After all, you are almost 84.
SISTER TERESING: Of course I get tired because most often there are plenty of people attending the healing sessions. Every first Saturday in Lipa, busloads of people would come from different cities and provinces and sometimes from other countries, too. But lately, I have slowed down because age is fast catching up with me. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I can no longer accept all invitations.
VGM: You have done this type of apostolate for many years and have reached many places. Surely there must have been many memorable experiences. Can you share one unforgettable incident?
SISTER TERESING: I have met many suffering people, not only needing physical but also spiritual healing. When I was invited to give a talk and healing session in Indonesia, there was a Chinese-Indonesian man who by all signs and symptoms was possessed by the devil. He was moaning and growling, his eyes rolling, his mouth frothing, and was mumbling unintelligibly. When people would come near him and try to pray over him, he would growl loudly and become violent. I approached and tried to let him kiss a metal crucifix. The moment the crucifix touched his lips, he growled louder and convulsed as if he had a seizure. Gradually, with a mournful moan, he slowly calmed down. After a few minutes, he was back to normal and couldn’t remember what happened to him. What was unusual was when I retrieved the crucifix, it was partly corroded. How that happened, I don’t know.
VGM: Wow, what an experience! I am sure the Lord will give you more years to continue helping people. As Bishop Arguelles said what is important is to move on and continue with strengthening our faith in God and invigorating the devotion to Mama Mary. He said that because we are good Christians, we accept and obey what the Church tells us.
SISTER TERESING: That is right. That is what God wants us to do. What really matters is our strong faith, the purity of our hearts, how much we love God and His Blessed Mother, and our loyal obedience to the Church which Our Lord instituted for our guidance.
That ended the short interview and after thanking her and Leah, I asked Sister Teresing to give me her blessing which she graciously did. As we stood up to part ways, I couldn’t help asking one more question which kept nagging me during the entire interview. “Sister Teresing, forgive me but I have to ask you this: are you using a perfume that is rose-scented?” She immediately answered, “No, I never use perfume. Come and smell me.” I approached her closely but there was no smell of any scent. So I told her, “You see, I am really curious. Didn’t you notice that all the time during our entire conversation, it was unusually windy and the smell of roses was quite strong? So I thought I was smelling your perfume.” Then Leah answered, “I am using perfume. Maybe that was it. But no, my perfume is not rose-scented.”
So I approached Leah as near as I could. Yes, I smelled her perfume. That should have settled the issue. But it was not exactly like the fragrance I smelled. Being a doctor I do not believe in superstition nor am I emotionally imaginative. However, I have the faith to believe that with God anything is possible even if reason or science cannot explain it.
Then Sister Teresing said, “Mama Mary must have been with us.” How I wish it was so! Was it Leah’s perfume that was wafting vividly all the time? That must be the answer. My mind must have been persuaded to believe I was smelling the fragrance of roses for after all, we had been talking of rose petals. Still, as I said, there is nothing impossible with God!
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