“Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need? (Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe spoken to St. Juan Diego on December 12, 1531)
Flowers remind me of a mother’s love. And here in this place, my eyes feast with delight at the beautiful sight of a wide variety of flowers silently blooming in all shapes and colors, from the most common tropical flower to rare orchids hanging from tree branches or bending gracefully above the ground. They grow and blossom in wild abandon as long as there is sunshine and rain to care for them every day. And each time I look at them, I am grateful to mother Isim whose green thumb and love for nature has transformed her garden into a little paradise where beauty, serenity and goodness dwells, a shining mirror of a multi-colored God who paints the landscape of our world with amazing creativity and uniqueness. She may not be physically present anymore to continue caring for them because her children had to bring her down to the city so that her delicate health can be more closely monitored by them and by her doctor at the hospital.
And so, as I ponder at the silent beauty of the flowers, my thoughts drift back to my own ancestral home in Quezon City now gone and the only thing I have that no one can take away are the unfading memories, especially of my mother. She loved gardening among her many other passions. Her paralysis was not a hindrance for her to live life to the full. I remember her regularly spending time in the garden to take care of her plants. She would even talk to them lovingly and strangely enough, they would blossom in time making her so happy. At hindsight, I realized that her close connection with nature was a healing therapy that replenished her drooping spirit and revitalized her energy.
And so, when her days were already numbered because of cancer, I remember having a light hearted conversation with her together with my youngest sister Maricris while she was confined at the hospital. We encouraged her to be strong and to hold on to life as we compared her to a cat with nine lives, looking so weak and vulnerable with every accident and illness, and yet, she amazingly bounces back to life with her resilient and feisty spirit giving death a hard time in winning her over to the other side. However, should the inevitable happen at any moment, we candidly begged her not to appear to us again like a ghost for we would be so scared to death. This made her laugh out loud. I asked her to just make her presence felt through a fragrance of a rose bouquet. She passed away on the 29th of March 2011. True enough, a few days after mama sadly gave way to death’s call, a sweet fragrance of roses greeted me at the door entrance of our home. It was unmistakably my mother who kept her promise. For a moment, I remained speechless as I simply stood motionless cherishing the scent of her loving presence embracing me with an assurance that she was fine and at peace now in the bosom of our Heavenly Creator.
While she kept her promise, we also kept ours to her, that is, to wear something red on the day of her interment. It may sound like a strange request but for her the color red simply meant love and sacrifice like a red rose surrounded by thorns. All the needles pricked on her weak veins, all the blood and tears shed and all the countless sacrifices she went through in her lifetime perhaps reminds her also of Christ’s sacrificial blood and wounds suffered during His crucifixion and death on the cross all in the name of his great love for humanity. And so, we not only wore something red, but everyone present also offered a red rose as we tearfully bid her our last farewell prayers at the Himlayang Filipino memorial park.
I still miss her so much! I will always remember fondly our laughters and the funny moments, the deep and the serious conversations. I miss her cooking, cakes and pastries. There’s nothing like coming home smelling the delicious aroma of home cooked meals ready to be enjoyed by one and all in the family. I miss her childlike ways and her unshakable faith in God. Her physical disability made her strong spiritually. I recall the day I had to leave the country for my new mission assignment in Los Angeles, California, She could not hide the pain with the thought of me leaving home again for the nth time as it was equally difficult for me to say goodbye to her fearing that I may never see her and my father again because of their old age. But she told me that the gospel reading of that day was the cost of following Jesus. “Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples. Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.” (Matthew 10:38-39) That gospel passage seemed the hardest thing for me to follow at that time. Nevertheless, she urged me to go in peace even if she was deeply saddened to see me go.
It’s been almost a decade now since she died but her love goes on like a star constantly shining especially during my darkest days. Then I realized that she is that beautiful red rose now transformed into a star in the heavens. This reminds me of the story from the classic book of Antoine Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince. In this simple yet profound story, the boy prince’s love and devotion for his one and only rose in his tiny planet is so moving. His words of wisdom are timeless and summons the reader to become a child once again. The little prince said, “If a person loves a flower that is the only one of its kind on all the millions and millions of stars, then gazing at the night sky is enough to make him happy. All the stars are a riot of flowers. My rose is out there somewhere. She filled me with her fragrance, she had brought joy to my life…” True enough, the scent of my mother still lingers each time I look out to the black velvety skies in the wee hours of the morning where millions of stars glisten and yet there is one out there that appears to shine out radiantly from the rest and deep within is a silent knowing that it’s my beloved mother. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince.
Roses are also closely connected to our Blessed Mother Mary. In fact, one of her revered title is a Mystical Rose (Rosa Mistica) which means “a rose without thorns”, that is, she was conceived without the stains of original sin. There is one very remarkable miracle of the roses attributed to the Virgin of Guadalupe. It happened on the Hill of Tepeyac, a suburb of Mexico City in December 12, 1531 when she appeared to an indigenous convert, Juan Diego for the third time requesting him to go to the bishop to tell him of her desire that a shrine be built there in her honor so she could manifest her love, her compassion, her succor and protection. At first, the Bishop of Mexico was reluctant to believe Juan Diego’s story and asked for a sign from the Blessed Virgin.
And so, Juan Diego begged our Lady to give him the sign he was to take to the Bishop. She therefore bade him to climb the hilltop where he had first seen her and spoken with her on three occasions. She said that there he would find many flowers blooming which he was to collect and to bring to her. He did as was told although on this stony summit including the very cold December weather, no flowers had ever bloomed there before. However, in that miraculous garden, he found beautiful fresh roses which he cut and brought them to Our Lady as he was told. She arranged them in his tilma (cloak) and told him to bring them to the Bishop, that it was the sign that would hopefully persuade him to carry out her wishes.
Juan Diego was radiantly happy as he stood before Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga and told him of his fourth encounter with the Blessed Virgin. Then as he opened his cloak to show him the sign, dozens of beautiful fresh roses cascaded down the floor to the astonishment of the Bishop and his companions. They were even more amazed when they saw an image of the Blessed Virgin marvelously painted in the most exquisite of colors upon the coarse fabric of Juan Diego’s tilma exactly as he had described her earlier to him. Needless to say, the Bishop knelt before the image of Our Lady in humble recognition and acceptance of her desire that a shrine be built on Tepeyac Hill in her honor.
Early on the same day of December 12, she also appeared to Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino who was very ill and in the brink of death. She restored him to health just as she assured Juan Diego with these words spoken in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec Empire): “Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son. Let nothing discourage you. Do not fear any illness or vexation. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?”
Both Juan Diego and his 57 year old uncle who was a widower were among the first native Aztecs to renounce their pagan religion and were baptized into the Catholic faith in 1525, only four years after the Spanish conquest. The amazing story of conversion of Our Lady of Guadalupe continues. It has been recorded by a historian of that time that 9 million people in Mexico by the year 1541 were converted to Catholicism, just ten years after her appearance to Juan Diego. The people of an entire country were converted without bloodshed. The people whose pagan culture relied on the sacrifice of thousands of innocents each year were freed by Our Lady of Guadalupe. They left behind their old gods and believed in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lady’s brown skin and deferential posture reveals that she came not only for the Spanish people but also for the Aztecs. She looks down in humility and compassion to all peoples the world over.
The original image of La Virgen Morena (the Brown Virgin), as she is fondly called by her millions of devotees, is enshrined at the new Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. I have been privileged to visit her shrine not only once but three times and each time I gaze at the icon of the Virgin hung at a high wall, I carry in my heart all the longings and aspirations of our people back home in the Philippines. And I sense her looking back at me with joy and gratitude for visiting her in this holy ground where miracles happen everyday in the hearts of all those who believe in the power of her maternal care and protection. I sense her telling me to continue to be her visible angel wherever I go and whatever it takes so that more and more peoples from all walks of life regardless of one’s race or color, ethnicity, cultural background or language may come to know that the Mother of God is also Our Mother, always ready to listen to us every time we call upon her for help, guidance, protection. She serves as a symbol of hope for all humanity now more than ever as our world continue to pass through the dark tunnels of this global pandemic caused by Coronavirus. For it has been known that Our Lady of Guadalupe was instrumental in ending a deadly epidemic of hemorrhagic fever that devastated Mexico City in 1736-37. She was then proclaimed patroness of Mexico in 1937 and the whole of Latin America in 1910.
At present, Our Lady of Guadalupe is considered the secondary patroness of our country. She was first declared patroness of the Philippines on July 16, 1935 by Pope Pius XI. However, Pope Pius XII issued a Papal Bull on Sept. 12, 1942 declaring that the Immaculate Conception is the principal and universal patroness of the Philippines. The image of the Inmaculada Concepción is enshrined at the main altar of the Basílica Minore of the Immaculate Conception in Intramuros. And the big icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe is enshrined at the right wing of the side chapel at the Manila Cathedral.(Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 11, 2010 – pressreader.com)
As the Philippines is about to celebrate it’s 500 years anniversary as a Christian nation that dates back to the arrival of the Spanish expedition under the command of Ferdinand Magellan in the country in the year 1521, it will not only highlight the icon of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) that was given by Magellan to the chieftain in Cebu, but being a Marian country, the celebrations will also involve the history of the devotion to the Mother of Our Lord Jesus, her first icon came from Guadalupe (Mexico) brought by the Spaniards in the year 1565. This year 2020 therefore marks 455 years since the coming of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Philippine territory. There is thus a reason for Mexico and the Philippines to renew its historical ties, both being two former Spanish colonies that have been Christianized. Hence, the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe shall play a vital role in renewing the Filipino-Mexican ties and relationship as we slowly inch our way towards the 500 years of Marian devotion in the Philippines. (www.mabuhayradio.com/www.magellan2021.com)
Pope Francis’ homily during the Eucharistic celebration held at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe early in the year 2016, cited the joy of having a mother in the person of the Blessed Virgin who we can always turn to in times of difficulties. However, he urged that we must not only remain recipients of the love of Mary but also sharers of that love and protection. The Pope exhorts: “Today, she sends us out anew; today, she comes to tell us again: Be my ambassador, the one I send to build many new shrines, accompany many lives, wipe away many tears. Simply be my ambassador by walking the paths of your neighborhood, of your community, of your parish. We can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us. Be my ambassador, she says to us, giving food to the hungry, drink to those who thirst, a refuge to those in need, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Come to the aid of your neighbor, forgive whoever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all, beseech and pray to God.” (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 11, 2016 – mb.com.ph)
The fragrance of our Blessed Mother’s love and protection continues to bless us down through the centuries. We need her now more than ever before as she remains true to her promise never to forsake us especially those who call upon her.
Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin of Guadalupe,
that in your apparitions on Mount Tepeyac,
You promised to show pity and compassion to all who,
loving and trusting you, seek your help and protection.
Accordingly, listen now to our supplications
and grant us consolations and relief.
We are full of hope that, relying on your help,
nothing can trouble or affect us.
As you have remained with us through your admirable image,
so now obtain for us the graces we need.
Marjorie J. Guingona, SAC
July 24, 2020
Nanga-Nangan, Tigbao, Zamboanga del Sur