Apparitions in Lipa: Is There Hope for Medjugorje?

Originally appeared at Catholic Stand on September 18, 2015.

On September 12, the Archbishop of Lipa in the Philippines issued a decree on a case of alleged apparitions from 1948 in Lipa itself. This news has been making its rounds within Catholic media. This is partly because of some history of Lipa that coincides with the Medjugorje phenomenon. In this article, I discuss this history, its importance and bearing on the expected judgment on Medjugorje.

The story and case of the alleged apparitions in Lipa begin in September, 1948.[i] A young Carmelite postulant, Teresita Castillo, claimed to see the Virgin Mary. Pursuant to this claim were messages attributed by Teresita to the Virgin, a statue was made according to Teresita’s description, and finally a phenomenon occurred involving rose petals. These petals mysteriously appeared around the Carmel convent and images are seen on at least some of them. Teresita also claimed that Our Lady referred to herself as “Mediatrix of All Grace.”

The local church investigated the matter from 1948-1951. During this time, Teresita left the convent. In 1951, Bishop Alfredo Verzosa y Florentin issued a decree stating that there was no evidence of the supernatural in the Lipa case.[ii] The statement read as follows:

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 that the above mentioned evidence and testimonies exclude any supernatural intervention in the reported extraordinary happenings-including the shower of petals – at the Carmel of Lipa.

There was also a very contentious phrase in the 1951 decree which stated “…until the final decision on the matter will come from the Holy See.” This phrase was, for devotees of Lipa, a ray of hope. It gave the impression that the 1951 decree was not definitive and open to be overturned by the Holy See.

The Devotion to Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace

It is also important to note that though the claims were denounced, the devotion to Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace was permitted. This was because the title is theological and enjoyed precedence prior to Teresita’s claims (cf. Refractions of Light, questions 103-107). Moreover, the Apostolic Administrator of Lipa, Bishop Rufino Santas, ordered the following:

Bishop Rufino Santos, who became apostolic administrator after Bishop Verzosa, ordered that 1) no petals be given to anyone by the Lipa Carmelite community; and 2) the statue of Our Lady of Mediatrix be withdrawn from public view.

For the next several decades there was some contention over the ruling in general, especially after some new phenomena were claimed in the early 1990s. This led to a renewed fervor and hope that the 1948 claims would be revisited. Hope surged in 1992 and again in 1993 when the Archbishop of Lipa, Mariano Gaviola, lifted the ban and granted permission to display again the image of the Mediatrix of all Grace (1992). A year later, he declared his personal belief in the case.

From 2005 onwards, the new Archbishop, Roman C. Arguella, began to take steps in favor of the claims. He admitted in 2005 that he “never doubted” them. In 2009, he formed a new commission to revisit the question. Less than a year later, in September, 2010, the Holy See issued a statement that upheld the 1951 judgment. This statement was revealed by Archbishop Arguellas in late 2010.

According to the Archbishop, Rome adopted the 1951 declaration as its own saying, “This declaration is the official communication of the final decision on the matter, as approved by the Holy See.” In the five years since Rome’s position was made known, Arguellas now decrees the claims to be supernatural in origin.

Strangely though, the Archbishop does not mention in his recent decree whether Rome has rescinded its 2010 statement on the matter.[iii]

What about Medjugorje?

The development of the Lipa case has raised hopes and expectations for those who are adherents to the Medjugorje phenomenon. For its part, Medjugorje also enjoys a rather tumultuous history. People have taken sides on the matter, for or against, and the case remains heavily controversial.

After a series of investigations into Medjugorje in the 1980s resulting in an unfavorable opinion by the local Bishop, Pavao Zanic, the Holy See recommended work continue on the level of the local Episcopal Conference. Said Conference looked into the matter and declared in 1991 that the supernatural was not proven—a ruling that remains highly debated even to this day.

Owing to the gravity of the Medjugorje phenomenon, the Holy See intervened in the case in March, 2010. The intervention consisted of establishing a commission into the matter and this effort was headed by Cardinal Ruini. It was announced in January, 2014, that the “Ruini Commission” (as it became known) had finished its work. Various news reports have since sprung up saying one thing or another as to the conclusion of the commission. No official word has come from Rome, though there was an interesting revelation from the Pope this past June.

This past June, while on the plane returning to Rome from his voyage to Sarajevo, Pope Francis fielded questions from reporters. During the course of this press conference, a reporter asked the Holy Father about Medjugorje. According to the transcript released by the Holy See, here is Pope Francis’ response:

In regard to the issue of Medjugorje, Pope Benedict XVI at the time convened a committee presided over by Cardinal Camillo Ruini; there were other Cardinals, theologians and specialists on the committee as well. They did an investigation and Cardinal Ruini came to me and gave me the study they did, after many years of labour, I don’t know, maybe three of four years, more or less. They did a fine job, a fine job indeed. Cardinal Müller (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) told me that he would be having a feria quarta (a meeting dedicated to this specific question) at the right time; I think it was done on the last Wednesday of the month. But I am not sure… We are close to coming to a decision. And then the results will be communicated. For the moment, all that is being done is to give guidelines to the bishops, but along the lines that will be taken. Thank you!

That last line about “giving guidelines to the bishops…along the lines that will be taken” was a significant remark. The Papal Nuncio to these United States, acting on orders from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave orders in late 2013 that were not favorable to Medjugorje. Specifically, the faithful were not to participate in events on Medjugorje that took the phenomenon as supernatural as a foregone conclusion. This order was recently tested by a scheduled appearance of Ivan Dragicevic in the Archdiocese of St. Louis in March of this year.

In short, if actions like the above (and at least one other like it) are the “guidelines” being given by the Holy See on Medjugorje, things do not look good for the phenomenon. The Church can (and does) make wrong decisions in these matters as she is not infallible in said matters. The reversal of the Lipa case gives hope to followers of Medjugorje that if Pope Francis were to give a negative judgment, such might be later overturned.

Time will tell what will happen, but in the meantime, the news is going to be interesting.

[i] I am here using the information available on Michael O’Neill’s The Miracle Hunter web site for this brief history of the Lipa claims.

[ii] On the Phatmass Phorum, there is a post dated June 24, 2013 with a text claiming to be a reproduction of the 1951 decree. The person who posted the text cited the source as being June Keithley’s book Lipa (1992). I have not independently verified this claim and so make no statement as to its authenticity. The information is provided for purposes of further research.

[iii] This observation is important because without Rome rescinding its 2010 declaration, the matter is no longer simply in the hands of the local Ordinary per the 1978 Norms on discerning alleged private revelations. No Archbishop can overrule Rome, the first See. The interview was conducted by Michael O’Neill with Radio Maria. O’Neill asked the Archbishop directly about this omission and the Archbishop did not answer the question. I have written about a similar question concerning the Our Lady of All Nations case.