A Child's Prayer - Give Us Saints!

By: Ma. Nila Ortega - Argel, ocds

What we need in churches are ways to bring back Roman Catholics to the fold
More candles that burn;
Incense that sweetens the air;
Ringing bells at Angelus;
Vestments of rich designs….;
And more saints!

The key point is that we need saints as models. When we see the saints and their response to God - it is a challenge to our own lives. There is a path to holiness that lies within ourselves.

The province of Ilocos Sur, my second home,  is blessed for its 32 municipalities and 2 cities.  12 are named after saints: San Emilio, San Esteban, San Ildefonso, San Juan, San Vicente, Santa, Santa Catalina, Santa Cruz, Santa Lucia, Santa Maria, Santiago and Santo Domingo.

Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that my twin Maria Luz Bolong and I work together for the greater honor and glory of God.

I attended a one-day convention in Manila on May 30, 2003 as part of my work at the Philippine Information Agency. Then I proceeded to Baguio arriving on time for my twin’s class at Maryknolls. I would have wanted to sit-in on their Journey in Life last session but her professor told me to wait at the library. There I saw and read the book written by June Keithley. In his message Fr. James B. Reuter, S.J., Director, National Office of Mass Media said: Years ago, the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines investigated the strange events that occurred at Lipa, and came to the official conclusion that there was in them no evidence of the supernatural. June Keithley feels that there was evidence of the supernatural in the things that happened at Lipa. She is asking the Catholic Church to re-consider the decision that was made many years ago. “Lipa”: The book contains the events at Lipa Carmel in 1948. Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus, O.C.D., wrote on the apparitions of Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace to Teresita Castillo, or “Teresing”, a Carmelite postulate and the showers of petals she witnessed together with the sisters and the people who went to Lipa.

One day I told my officemate, Carlo Caňares, about the Lipa apparitions. He too had read the book and, he believes that the replica of the statue of Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace which was mentioned in the book that Bishop Verzosa had in his possession, was the one he saw at the Baptistry at the Vigan Cathedral. So we went to the Cathedral and I learned that it was indeed the replica left by Bishop Verzosa.

In one of our visits to Lipa, my twin and I were ecstatic. While we were at the prayer house where Sister Teresing give talks and healing sessions every First Saturday, a lady who came from abroad allowed us to kiss a preserved rose petal which she claims, was one of the reported shower of petals in 1948. 

53rd death anniversary
A Pontifical Mass led by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles was held at the Metropolitan St. Paul’s Cathedral at Vigan City on June 27, 2007, which marked the 53rd death anniversary of the late Bishop Alfredo Verzosa.  Concelebrants were Archbishop Ernesto A. Salgado and Archbishop Emeritus Edmundo M. Abaya of Nueva Segovia; Bishop Rey Evangelista of Boac, Marinduque; Bishop Sergio Utleg of Laoag; and Bishop Emeritus Salvador Quizon, who was ordained by Bishop Verzosa in 1949. Coincidentally, we twins celebrated our 53rd birthday anniversary in that year.

Just like Fr. Erickson Josue, parochial vicar of the Diocese of Laoag, something stirred me that led into knowing the life of Bishop Verzosa. For Fr. Josue, it was Bishop Verzosa’s remains kept in the crypt for bishops; for me it was the statue I discovered earlier.

Life-sized statues of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite Saint and St. John Vianney, patron saint of Diocesan priests stands at the entrance where the statue of Bishop Verzosa known as Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace is enshrined. At times when I go to mass at the cathedral, my friend Fran Quitoriano and I go for a short visit. Teaching at the ICST, my friend asks for the intercession of St. Vianney to take good care of the seminarians. On my part, although my sons had gone out of the seminary, I pray that that they live the path of holiness on their chosen vocations. Of course, I being a Carmelite seek the intercession of St. Therese and Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace, for all the graces needed to do God’s Will Always.

Adoration Chapel
The angel of the Lord brought God’s message to Mary. And she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. On March 24, 2008, the feast of the Annunciation, Msgr. Roque Reyes, parish priest of the Vigan Cathedral, brought the parishioners good news. Starting that day, the Adoration Chapel opens after the 6 o’clock mass in the morning and closes at 6 o’clock in the evening.  He was referring to the same Shrine of Our Lady that was transformed to an Altar of the Blessed Sacrament. The image of our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace is now placed beside the Marian altar located at the right side of the main altar.

When St. Frances of Chantal was 5 years old her father had a visitor and Frances interrupted their conversation. She said. “But sir you have to believe Jesus Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus Himself said so.” Her father said: “Jane, you’ll be more interested in these nuts than in our theological discussion.” Jane received the nuts and later threw the peelings of almond nuts at the fireplace. When the nuts hit the flames, Jane said: “This is what happens to people who don’t believe what our Lord says. I welcome the exposed Blessed Sacrament where I can go directly to the Source of Life Himself to the Heart of God.

Our Lady who at the same time holds the title Queen of All Saints, is an added push to our prayers. Saints are avenues to Christ. Having read and shared on the lives of countless saints at my radio program at DZNS, the archdiocesan radio station from July 2004 up to the present, the life of Bishop Verzosa as narrated by Fr. Josue brings up high hopes for a new saint. I firmly believe that God sends the Church the saints it needs at the time it needs them.

A Child’s Prayer - Give us Saints!

Who is Bishop Verzosa? Alfredo Verzosa y Florentin was born in Vigan in 1877 to Alejandro Verzosa and Micaela Florentin. Ordained in 1904 by Bishop Dennis Dougherty of Nueva Segovia he started his priestly assignment at the cathedral of Vigan. At 39 years old, he became the second bishop of Lipa. He took over the diocese from 1917-1950 for 37.4 years His diocese covered Lipa, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon / Tayabas, Marinduque and Mindoro.     
He preached in Spanish for he spoke only Ilocano and Spanish. As a pioneer, Bishop Verzosa founded in 1923 the Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart; was the first to welcome the Carmelite Fathers to the Philippines, also the Pink Sisters and the Daughters of St. Paul. He was endowed with forsight and right judgment, when he built a major seminary in Tayabas, now Lucena, in 1942, placing it under the protection of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. That seminary was to be the keystone in the building of the new diocese of Lucena.

As acknowledged that there are resemblances of holiness but formed in different molds, noteworthy of Bishop Verzosa’s qualities as a bishop was his prayerfulness. He knelt before the altar in prayer for fifteen minutes before and after celebrating Mass. With a thorough knowledge of Moral Theology, he instructed his priests to refresh themselves on the matter as an aid in hearing confessions.

Irreproachable morally, he did not even allow himself to be photographed with women. His moral standards would fare deeply in contrast to the likes of Cardinal Richard Cushing. In a visit to a home for Elderly ladies, an old woman reached for his hand and tried to kiss his ring. The Cardinal said: “Don’t kiss the ring, kiss the cardinal.” He gave her a holiday buss and danced with her.

Bishop Verzosa was Lipa's bishop during the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to postulant Teresing Castillo in 1948. The auxiliary bishop then was Bishop Alfredo Obviar. Both believed in the apparitions. They were asked to "retire" by the Vatican In 1951, after a six-bishop commission declared the Lipa apparitions a hoax.  Bishop Rufino Santos became apostolic administrator of Lipa and, the veneration of Our Lady Mediatrix of All Grace was stopped. But pilgrims have continued to visit the Virgin Mediatrix of All Grace until now.

In 1951, he was appointed Titular Bishop of Capsa. A titular bishop is a bishop holding the title of a see which no longer politically exists or no longer has any Orthodox Christian flock. Titular bishops usually serve as assistants to ruling bishops, similar to an auxiliary bishop but not holding a title which is within the territory of another bishop.  This reminds me of St. Chad _ patron saint of Losers for his title of bishop was revoked. According to the story of his life, St. Wilfrid  had been chosen as Bishop of York, went to Gaul for consecration and remained so long absent that King Oswiu determined to wait no longer, and procured the election of Chad as Bishop of York. St. Theodore, the newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury decided that St. Chad must give up the diocese to St. Wilfrid, who had now returned. When he further intimated that St. Chad's episcopal consecration had not been rightly performed, the Saint replied, "If you decide that I have not rightly received the episcopal character, I willingly lay down the office; for I have never thought myself worthy of it, but under obedience, I, though unworthy, consented to undertake it".

After the bishops left Lipa, Bishop Rufino Santos became apostolic administra
tor. Two miracles reportedly occurred through the intercession of Bishop Verzosa but the nuns had not officially announced them. The miracle of Lipa has yet to be approved. It is believed that St. Augustine was the first to attempt a definition of a miracle. “I call a miracle, wrote St. Augustine, “any difficult or uncustomary thing which appears, exceeding the hope and expectation of the onlookers.”  Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologicae, wrote: “Miracle suggests something full of wonder, whose cause is unknown simply and absolutely. This cause is God. Hence what God does outside of causes known to us are called miracles”.

In another book written entitled, “Wonders of Lipa”, Dr. Francisco Villanuena interviewed Bishop Verzosa on January 23, 1949 and he said: “Personally I believe in the Divine Apparitions. But as a bishop and dignitary of the Holy Catholic Church, subject to the jurisdiction of His Holiness, the Pope, I can not make any decision hastily, thus I appointed a committee of theologians, headed by Father Angel de Blas, rector of the University of Santo Tomas, to make a study on the theological aspect of the case. When asked if it was true of the reported rose-petals that fell on his feet, Bishop Verzosa said: “Yes,” I was inside the locutory of the Carmelite Monastery, and the windows and the doors were closed. When I was about to step out of the door outside, several petals fell on my feet, to my great surprise. I picked up some of them.”

Scorned and even persecuted, he remained devoted to the Apostolic See (Faithful to the Magisterium of the Church), Bishop Verzosa went home to Vigan when he retired taking with him Msgr. Salvatus whom he met in Lipa. He died in 1954, the same year we twins first saw the light of the world.

Pope John Paul ll first visited the Philippines in Manila on February 18, 1981, for the beatification of Lorenzo Ruiz and his companion martyrs. Blessed Lorenzo, a married man was canonized on October 18, 1987 at Rome, and his feast day is celebrated on September 28.

                How would the Bigueńos react if ever the city of Vigan’s name be changed to San Verzosa City, in honor of the late Bishop Verzosa, a Vigan’s son? For now, only God who peers into the heart knows if he would be deemed worthy of such an honor. The cause for the beatification of Bishop Obviar has been submitted to the Holy See! Fr. Josue feels Bishop Verzosa, the first Ilocano Catholic bishop who died in utter poverty in Vigan, had been forgotten. 

On February 19, 2008, the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia witnessed the blessing of the upgraded tower of DZNS and the bust of Bishop Alfredo Verzosa. D.D. by Archbishop Salgado. Are these expressed signals that very soon the cause for the beatification of Bishop Verzosa will likewise be submitted to the Holy See? I am very delighted whenever I hear Rev. Simeon Peralta, a priest staying at Domus, a retirement home for the priests of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, mention the name of Bishop Verzosa during the mass he celebrates. Hopefully DZNS and Timek Ti Amianan _ the Archdiocese arm for Evangelization will prepare a program that would influence the faithful to seek Bishop Verzosa’s intercession.

Saints transcends the limitations of time and space. They are always there to help us. Could we hope for Pope Benedict XVl to visit the Philippines for another beatification?  Give us Saints,” we pray _ saints in our times and in our country and in our province of Ilocos Sur!  Give us San Verzosa, we pray!


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