by Ramón A. Pedrosa
The Stand of a Catholic before Religious Phenomena
As you may know, every heavenly apparition or happening on earth brings with it controversy, enmity, hostility, even separation. This we know. It has been foretold. She comes to crush the head of the serpent, and the coiled serpent will strike at her and her children. It is the very first prophesy, the protoprofesía,in Genesis. And She whose coming was foretold has come. She is with us. And the Archfiend. He strikes at Her and at us, her children. But She will crush his head.
This we saw at Fatima, and at Lourdes, in Medjugorje, even in our own Lipa. And the rose petals certainly are no exception. Friends have become envious of one another. Assertions and accusations have been hurled back and forth. Miracle! Fake! Manufactured! Preternatural! Even, demonic!
The Rose Petals
What is the religious phenomenon that is before us? It is the so-far unexplainable apparition on the petals of flowers, mostly of roses, of images of heavenly personalities.
At first they appeared on the petals of flowers that showered in the Carmelite Monastery in Lipa, Batangas way back in the 1950s. After an ecclesiastical commission spearheaded by the Nunciature denounced it, the phenomenon stopped.
During the last decade, ostensibly starting around 1981, at the Grotto at the Christ the King compound on former España (now Rodriguez) Extension the phenomenon has recurred. It appears on the petals of flowers offered before the statue of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in that Grotto. But with a difference. The petals with images occur in great number, and the images are of numerous New Testament personalities in many different variations.
When did these images come about? Nobody knows with certainty. But many years ago, Father Lorenz Leisring, SVD, known for his holiness, would come to the Grotto every evening to pray the rosary. He had a particular devotion to her and kept a picture of her in his room under the title Mary Protectress of Missionaries. He is buried in the Priest's Cemetery by the Grotto.
Reportedly about the year 1981, the images first started appearing on the petals of flower offerings at the Grotto when Thelma Bartola Medina, affectionately called Lola Thelma by the people who knew her, started taking care of the Grotto. She was a simple, old woman who loved our Lady very much. People recall that she came to Mass every day at the Christ the King Church, and she would distribute these petals she picked up from the sweepings to people who came to talk to her. Nobody paid her and her petals any serious attention, except a few SVD priests and seminarians. She died on December 31, 1990 of injuries sustained when she was robbed and attacked by a crazed woman at the Grotto.
Since the first quarter of 1991, the phenomenon has begun to take place in 13 San Vicente Street in San Francisco del Monte at the apartment of Carmelo Cortez, a former altar boy in the San Pedro Bautista Parish. Images on the rose petals still occur at the Grotto of the Immaculate Conception, but the attention of people has shifted.
Other phenomena also associated with rose petals and the Blessed Mother have started to occur in that place.
That something religious is happening cannot be doubted. But we must caution against creating scandal among the people of God. We must await the investigation of the Archbishop of Manila before publicly asserting any claim of the miraculous to the phenomenon of the rose petals. Above all, we must respect the privacy of the grounds of the Christ the King Seminary and the authority of the SVD fathers over the Grotto of the Immaculate Conception.
Purpose of the Exhibit
This Exhibit is sponsored by the Center for Peace - Asia. As a matter of fact, it was one of its members, the Marian ambassador, June Keithley, who suggested the holding of this Exhibit. Here to this Center of Peace the many come who are especially attached to the Blessed Mother, who have a special need for her. There are among us those who feel the need to call attention to this phenomenon as bearing all the appearances of coming from the Mother of God. Others caution that we wait and discern what is the will of God in these tiny messages. The Center, in housing this Exhibit, itself stands ready to contribute to collaborate with the Society of the Divine Word and by the Archbishop of Manila in whatever investigation may be conducted of these occurrences.
Examination of the Petals.
Of the petals themselves, I can only share my own private, non-professional conclusions. The information I share with you here surrounding the appearance of images on the petals is mostly hearsay, except my own direct observations of the petals themselves. I have not myself been able to observe a bare petal that is in my possession to later bear an image.
Kinds of Flowers
Seen with the naked eye they are ordinary flower petals, mostly if not the great majority, roses, and there are some orchids, but there are also a few plain leaves.
Old Flowers, Fresh Flowers
They have all been old petals, all dried up; aged from various months to several years. However, only three days ago there has come to my possession some petals, and two whole rose flowers, that still fresh, already had images on them. I am told they came from a bila-oof fresh roses.
Sizes of Petals
They range from the very tiny (5 mm. x 2 mm.), about 1/4 inch, to the large (35 mm. x 35 mm.), about 3-1/2 inches.
The pictures in this Exhibit are magnifications to 20" x 24" of forty three petals chosen for this purpose from the many hundreds in the collection of Fr. Bart. They are from petals that belong to the private collections of many people. The great majority are from one of the most devoted caretakers of the Grotto Mrs. Sancha Palu-ay Tanlu who appointed herself to take the place of the late Aling Thelma Medina, who dedicated herself to the Blessed Mother for many years. Other petals are from Mrs. Mercy Tuason and Father Pascual Adorable, SJ.
You will realize that they are petals of the various size ranges I just mentioned. For ready reference, when you are viewing the pictures, imagine the actual dimensions of the petal corresponding to the blown-up picture before you to be about the size of the fingernail of your thumb, more or less. Literally, a rule of thumb.
In their natural state a flower curls up and wrinkles several days after it has been cut from the stem of the mother plant, but in the case of the petals in question they have invariably been flattened between the pages of some heavy book such as a missal or bible. Of the fresh roses I mentioned earlier, yesterday they have started to curl up. I will soon take microphotographs of them, both while still attached to their stem, and eventually when they have naturally fallen off.
Whole Petals, Torn Petals
The petals, at least those that have come to my possession for the purpose of photographic recording, are in various stages of integrity: from whole to torn.
I am told there were no images when the petals were torn from their stems, but when impressed between the pages of a holy book like a Bible or a Missal, it was reportedly observed after some days to bear an image. All the magnified photographs that will be exposed in this exhibit are of that characteristic.
State of the Images
The images are in various stages of composition, from the incipient to the perfect.
Description of Images
So far, the images fall into the following classifications which in the following order also corresponds to the frequency of occurrence: 1) Mother and Child, 2) The Lady as at Fatima and Medjugorje, 3) the Lady as at Lourdes, 3) the Crucifixion and the Blessed Mother, 4) the Holy Family, 5)
The Physical Examination of the Images
When Mrs. Annie Lucban a few months ago gave me the first few petals to photograph, my initial reaction as a lawyer was one of incredulity, disbelief. As a matter of fact, when I was viewing the petal under extreme photographic magnification my intention was to try to see marks of physical imprinting as by a medal or such other object on the delicate surface of the flower. I recall that while my eye was glued to the eyepiece of my camera set-up I was exclaiming under my breath "mind-boggling, mind-boggling!" The only way to get out of the state of wonder and awe was to screw up my macro-lens and my array of close-up lenses to full magnification so that the view on the screen was a mere segment of the petal. More wonder and awe! I could see through all that specialized glass that the veins of the petal were intact - no injury, no burning in. The image was on the membrane between the veins, and sometimes the veins themselves made up part of the image and an integral part of the composition. How about the other side, I thought. So I turned the petal around and peered through the camera at the dorsal side of the image. The same observation - the veins were intact, and the image, or rather the membrane, because at that magnification I couldn't actually see the whole image only part of it, the membrane was similarly undamaged. It even seemed to me at first that the image was under the membrane, but on closer look at the detail the membrane lent itself to become the image. But it was clear that something had happened to the membrane which, as I had seen in petals without any image, would be a normal uniform coloration, and where the coloration was variegated, only show bands or swaths of different color gradations entirely normal and natural. But in the petals with images you can see that the membrane twisted and colored itself and its veins to compose the images. My friends, both of you who believe and those of you who don't, it is by any account an incredible thing to stare at the haunting image of a young smiling Mother Mary playing with her infant Jesus on the surface of a tiny rose petal.
The Photographic Equipment
The photography used is based on the Konishiroku Konica Camera system and its line of Hexanon lenses. I used four Konica camera bodies: two FS-1s, one Autoreflex T3, and one TCX. My main lens unit is the Macro-Hexanon AR 55mm f3.5 with macro lens adaptor and Extension Bellows. The close-up work is done on a Konica Copy Stand with Fine Rail Adjuster. The supplementary close up lenses were the +1, +2 and +3 Hoya Close Up Lenses, a +10 Kenko Close Up Lens, and a +10 Vivitar Macro Adapter Lens. The lighting was provided by a pair of Unomat LX801 Auto Compact Video Safety Lights. The film used was AgfaColor XRG 100 for print, and Kodak Ektachrome 200 for slides. Some close up color video work was done, but only tentatively.
Custody. All the pictures taken, whether print or slides, are under the custody of the Reverend Father Virgilio Bartolome SVD of the Catholic Trade School.
Things still to be done
I would like to see a typical petal with image examined under the microscope by a botanist. I would like the petal membrane examined chemically, both the imaged and non-imaged areas. I would like to see the effect of heat on the membrane. I would like to see some one emulate the images on petals.
What do all of these mean? What are we to do?
As I said in the beginning, the discerning Filipino Catholic, ever obedient to the Magisterium, must await the official pronouncement of the Ordinary, our Bishop Cardinal Sin, to whose jurisdiction the whole happening is subject before any attribution of heavenly intervention is made. We must be ever aware against the danger of scandalizing the people of God. At the same time, we dare not shackle the Holy Spirit.
For the ordinary person in the street who must toil for the next meal, worry about the children, who has no ability nor time nor inclination to perform complex scientific investigations, it must come as another proof of the simple, straightforward, maternal love of Mother Mary for her children. The people have been coming to the grotto first in the handful, then in the tens. Today they come in droves as they seek Her out, the Mother of God, their own Mahal na Birhen,to plead with her, to admire her, to ask her intercession before her Divine Son for their pains and problems, to praise her who is blessed for her fidelity to God and through her perhaps join their feeble praise to her Son and through Them to the Father in Heaven. They will come to her, petal or no petal.
As for me, I have drawn my own private conclusions. I still have many unanswered questions. I have so little faith. But within the narrow scope of what I have seen, I am convinced that the whole happening belongs to the province of the marvelous. I am awed by the demonstration of the infinite in the finite in this mind-boggling reality of such wonderful images, ikons, contained in such tiny, diaphanous membranes of rose petals.
What shocks me is the realization from history that it is only in the Philippines that the rose petal phenomenon has taken place. At the assumption of our Lady's body to heaven, there was the fragrance of roses. When we pray the rosary she says that a rose is offered to her with every Hail Mary. At Naju, Korea, Julia the suffering soul, says that we must bring the fragrance of the rose to all the world. And I recall with a start a phrase in Scripture: non fecit taliter omnis nationis, it has not been done like this to any other nation! (Psalms 147:20)
As a son of the Church I know the rules regarding miracles and apparitions. It is the duty of the Church in these rules and regulations to weed out the demonic from the celestial. They make the rules but the happenings are happening to us. She speaks to the people directly through these petals which are like the Gospel in a flower. I dare not be a stumbling block to the almost frantic efforts of our Blessed Mother to send her messages of warning to her children around the world.
But for the others,
It is she who sends her petals of invitation, to those who will still not hear. It is to them that the petals are addressed. It is her own Hallmark card. We who receive them are only her delivery agents. And she is setting up new post offices to handle the ever growing mail. The call is for us to deliver them to every one all over the world.