OUR LADY OF EDSA
By Bishop Socrates B. Villegas
Diocese of Balanga, Philippines
(Talk delivered by Bishop Socrates B Villegas at the Asian Workshop Group of the Twenty Second International Marian Congress in Lourdes, France from September 4 to 8, 2008 on the occasion of the 150th year of the Lourdes apparition.)
Many apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary have been reported throughout the centuries. The various Marian shrines all over the world attest to their occurrences and in some cases to their recognition by the Church. This very place where we are gathered is a testament to this phenomenon.
These Marian shrines—from Mexico to Japan and many parts in Europe—were built at almost the exact, same spot as the apparitions of Mary had been told to happen by witnesses, most of them ordinary, even impoverished, children who did not possess the sophistication of education, but whose simplicity and innocence easily grasped the beauty and radiance of a pure and Immaculate Lady telling them messages that must be relayed with urgency to all her other children.
The Church, in giving approval to these apparitions, tells us that, indeed, Mary can visit us in more palpable ways. “Theologians are agreed that God can grant private revelations, that he can suspend the normal laws which veil from mortals the persons and realities of the supernatural world and manifest these to direct sensory or intellectual perception.” (1) This view points to an essential duty of the Church to interpret, defend and be the custodian of public revelation. The Marian apparitions accepted by the Church all show the desire of Mary, our mother, to lead us all to her Son, Jesus Christ, who alone redeems and saves mankind.
The focus is not on the extraordinary event itself, which brooks scientific explanation, but on the divine message and on the longing of God to build up His people, and somehow make them—us—“feel” with a human kind of feeling His divine love—a love that can be so lovingly and readily understood through the love of a Mother who is present to her children.
FILIPINOS’ LOVE FOR MARY
The Filipinos love Mary and we know Mary loves the Philippines. Pueblo amante de Maria we proudly describe ourselves. The oldest image of Mary in the Philippines dates back to 1571. She is venerated under the title of Nuestra Senora de Guia in Ermita, Manila.
In the same city, Mary is also venerated as the Virgen de La Naval de Manila dating back to 1593, commemorating the miraculous victory of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay against the Dutch Protestant invasion in 1646. Two worn out Spanish galleons won against fifteen new Dutch battleships through the power of the rosary. The victory of La Naval de Manila is a pious Marian tradition that is carried on by Filipino generations until now. That same victory through the power of the rosary will be repeated in 1986.
The protomartyr of the Philippines, San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila was martyred in Nagasaki Japan. The only surviving witness of that courageous dying for the faith is an image of Our Lady of the Rosary to whom San Lorenzo looked up as he laid down his life. That image is now called La Japonesa by our people.
Public buses and street intersections in our country are adorned with a little altar in honor of Mary. Almost all our favorite pilgrimage places all over the country are Marian shrines and sanctuaries. The Filipinos love Mary in a unique fashion. We love Mary with a superabundance of confidence and trust that she loves us with such breadth and width that she will always protect us and come to our help. We do not doubt that she will pray for us in our need and that is why we constantly fly unto her “O, Virgin of Virgins, Our Mother.”
MARY AT EDSA 1986
It was also to her that our local Church ran to in the dark days of our modern history, when our country was gripped by the stronghold of a regime that was nearing more than two decades of authoritarian military rule. It was at this time that the Philippine hierarchy proclaimed a Marian Year for the Philippines beginning December 8, 1984 and ending December 8, 1985. The declaration came more than a year after the country was rocked by the assassination of a former senator Benigno Aquino in August 1983 at the airport tarmac clutching a rosary in his hand and wearing a scapular of Carmel on his chest.. The period following this tragic event was turbulent, as it brought to the fore all the hidden fears and anxieties of Filipinos whose freedom and rights had been shackled. More and more the people longed for an end to the dictatorship and a return to a proper democracy.
In its proclamation of the Marian Year, the Philippine bishops expressed the hope that “it would occasion serious reflection on the place of Mary in the Divine Plan of Salvation, stir up greater love for her, and inspire our people with new life and courage to live the faith in these troubled times.” (2)
In a Pastoral Exhortation on the Marian Year (The Marian Year 1985: A Pilgrimage of Hope with Our Blessed Mother), which followed the proclamation, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, painted the national situation at that time:
“Perhaps not since the period of the Second World War have our people faced a year of such bleak prospects as they faced with the ending of 1984. For those socially and economically disadvantaged—that is, the majority of our people—1985 seems to promise perhaps even more privation, more widespread unemployment, increased inflation, greater hardships, with no end of the tunnel in sight. For so many who are suffering from difficulties and uncertainties, burdened by injustice and crushed by violations of human rights, the foreseeable future seems to bring little prospect of relief. In sum, the present year is hardly a year for facile optimism or bright hope.” (no. 5) (3)
The Marian Year, the bishops said, opened up a ray of hope. “Our Filipino people have always turned to our Blessed Mother in times of difficulty, of crises, even of seeming hopelessness. Always we have asked her, groaning and weeping in this valley of tears, to turn her eyes of mercy upon us. And always she has been, as the countless shrines and altars dedicated to her throughout our land attest, for us our life, our sweetness and our hope.” (no. 6). (4)
The bishops said they were encouraged by the words of the Popes including John Paul II of happy memory who said, “Mary is always at the center of our prayer. She is the first among those who ask. She is omnipotentia supplex, the omnipotence of intercession.” Thus the bishops said they were “daring to make this expression our own, since it corresponds to a deep instinct of our devotion,” and “ask her to lead us in our prayer and petition to the Lord, toward conversion, toward renewal in private and public life, towards justice and reconciliation, brotherhood and peace in our troubled land.”(no.7) (5)
Searching and longing for hope and deliverance the Filipino people turned to Mary and celebrated the Marian Year with fierce devotion. At a rain-soaked Marian prayer-rally in September 1985, on the commemoration of Mary’s birth anniversary, at Manila’s central park, hundreds of thousands gathered and in the enveloping evening as the Eucharistic celebration drew to a close held up their candles and sang a hymn to their Blessed Mother. In December of the same year, they gathered again but now more in number as they brought to a close the Marian Year, unknowing that another era would soon be heralded. A week after that Marian rally, the former dictator declared snap elections.
ACTS OF CHARITY, HOPE AND LOVE
On the night of February 22, 1986, the Philippines People Power began, not as a gathering of people out to produce force or power, but as a response to a call to protect two people who had turned against the country’s dictator.
There was unprecedented massive cheating in the snap polls. The late Archbishop of Manila, Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, had gone on the air to call on the people to go to EDSA, (Epifanio de los Santos or Epiphany of the Saints Avenue), in front of the camp where the two had holed themselves in. The protection was from the battalions and armies of soldiers in tanks even who were dispatched by the dictator to overcome the rebels. Before midnight thousands had heeded the call, bringing with them rosaries and images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus began the four-day peaceful revolution, waged with rosaries and prayers, and hymns and supplications to Our Lady.
Seen from afar the objective observer might not sense that a revolution was afoot. The stretch of the highway that covered the length of the camp and beyond was being filled with people from all walks of life. One who was present there described them: “As we walked around, what struck me was that the people came from all walks of life—teenagers in jeans and T-shirts, middle-class matrons and their husbands, the poor people, including the peddlers. There were entire families.” (Jaime Yulo, People Power: An Eyewitness History). (6)
The presence of Mary at EDSA in 1986 did not come in the manner of Lourdes or Fatima or Guadalupe. The millions of Filipinos at EDSA were not looking out for appearances of Our Lady because they believed she was already with them. They brought her with them and enthroned her in the many altars that sprouted along the length of the highway and in every other nook and cranny. Even the Protestant Constabulary Chief who initiated the rebellion had the image of Our Lady of Fatima always beside him in the room in the camp where he sought safety. Many went to EDSA armed only with a rosary and a handkerchief. The only constant and recurring activity among the millions of people that came and went and stayed at EDSA was the praying of the rosary, at all hours and minutes of the day and night. To her we sang “Immaculate Mother we come at thy call” They intoned Mary’s name like a litany until the time of their triumph and the dictator fled on February 25, 1986.
EDSA 1986 AS A MARIAN APPARITION
This praying throng was the People of God--His Church. They could be the “islands of humanity” (7) that theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar proposed could be built by Christian leaders to contribute to the rebuilding of cultural humanism, a movement with Jesus Christ at the center. In these “islands” could be found the living presence of Jesus, Von Balthasar said, among his disciples who bears witness to God, and expressed in the “living prophetic Marian dimension in the Church.” (8)
Mary is the perfect witness, the true disciple who received, responded to and shared love.
EDSA Philippines 1986 was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I submit the following premises.
First premise. It was evidently a manifestation of the Church as people of God. In the vastness of the crowd that gathered spontaneously to pray, it is hard to deny the presence of Jesus who promised that when two or three gather in His name, He will be there in the midst of them.
Second premise: Although there is general tendency to look at Mary as a member of the Church, the second century writings of Iraeneus link the virginal motherhood of the Church to the virginal motherhood of Mary to such a degree that he almost identifies Mary and the Church”(Adversus Haereses IV, 33, 4 and IV, 33,11). (9) In the sermon of Cyril of Alexandria in the Council of Ephesus, he saw Mary as the living and concrete personification of the Church, the universal Church in concrete form. Accordingly his Litany of Mary contained such acclamations to her which are alternatively personal and ecclesiological: Let us parise the evr virgin Mary, that is the Holy Church, and her Son and Immaculate Bridegroom. Hans Urs Von Balthasar declares that this is an acknowledgement in principle of what centuries later the German theologian Scheeben will call perichoresis (mutual indwelling) between Mary and the Church, which is so close that no one can be fully understood only in and with the other”. (The Marian Profile, Brendan Leahy page 22-23). (10)
Therefore, EDSA Philippines 1986 was not only a manifestation of the Church as people of God but also an epiphany of Mary in the lives of the people who call upon her name. Like all apparitions, something extraordinary happened at EDSA in 1986 that cannot be explained by sociologists and anthropologists and political scientists.
It can only be explained by faith. The message of the EDSA Marian apparition did not come from a voice of a woman by the grotto or on a bush. The message of world peace through the power of prayer particularly the rosary was proclaimed by the people who knelt on hard concrete, facing tanks and guns and calling the soldiers “brothers”—veritably the voice of Mary for the world!
While there was no apparition at EDSA Philippines in 1986 of Our Lady as she had manifested herself in Lourdes or Fatima or Guadalupe, her “appearance” was in the “islands of humanity” that sprung up among the millions gathered. In all these appearances she was present as Church, as the love of God through his Son Jesus Christ, “For where two or three are gathered in his name, he is in their midst (Mt 18:20).
Filipinos know and carry Mary in their hearts because they know that with Mary is Jesus, her Son. The New National Catechetical Directory of the Philippines affirms this: (no. 204). “Mary’s response of faith, as can be glimpsed from Scripture, is a picture of complete integration of that ‘perfect cooperation with the grace of God that preaches and assists’ and [that] perfect openness to the action of the Spirit, who constantly brings faith to the completion of his gifts.’ In living her fiat, her Yes to God, in all the realities of ordinary, daily living; in family crises; in moments of uncertainties and inability to understand; and in times of distress, worry, anguish and suffering, Mary becomes, in a personal way, the ‘exemplar of faith.’ She is not only the icon of the longed-for fulfillment of their prayers and hopes, but also the mother who identifies with them, understands their problems, and cares for them.” (11)
Jesuit Father Jose Blanco in his Epilogue to the People Power book believed in the unique “apparition” and miracle at EDSA. He said:
“…We have not interviewed any of the soldiers or tank personnel, but we venture to suggest that when the soldiers saw praying unafraid people, cheerful, offering flowers and cigarettes, willing to come under the tank treads, these effectively tied their hands and changed their will not to carry out their mission of destruction.”
“…A quiet gentle woman, loved by Filipinos, was instrumental in the miracle or victory through nonviolence. She is Mary, our Mother. Her instrument was the Rosary, the unrelenting Hail Marys that filled the atmosphere; the mantle of her protection was her many images and statues … She took care and made sure that we, her devoted children, who had already suffered for so many years, would be completely delivered from bloodshed. God was actively present during those February days. So was Mary.” (12)
In February 1986, Mary was with us. She embraced us and assured us that we have recourse to her for our many needs, not only temporal, but most importantly, spiritual. Our need to be peace-loving, to live in harmony and kindness with our neighbors, to share what we have with others especially with those who are in need, to keep faith in the goodness of God.
As with her other appearances, a shrine has been built along the avenue of her “apparition” at EDSA 1986 in the Philippines. It is called Mary Queen of Peace, Our Lady of Edsa Shrine. It is a testament to the Filipino people’s faith and love for truth, freedom and peace. It is now aptly referred to as holy ground by the Filipino people. The Shrine of Mary at EDSA is an oasis of prayer and silence in the middle of the city. The poor come to seek medical care and avail of scholarship programs. The lonely can commune with the Lord in the perpetual Eucharistic adoration chapel.
Among all the shrines of Mary in the Philippines, it is her shrine at EDSA that is most closely linked to social reform and transformation. The Almighty who has done great things (13) for Mary has also given this lowly servant to us Filipinos as our patron for peaceful change. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. (14) The peaceful revolution of EDSA ignited many more peaceful revolts in Germany and Poland and Russia and many other parts of the world.
At the EDSA Shrine, there are no bushes and springs to remind us of an apparition of Mary. We only have the God loving, peace making children of Mary who continue the mission of social reform. Mary continues to walk among us through one another.
1. THEOTOKOS (A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary) by Michael O’Carroll, C.S.Sp, p. 47)
2. “PROCLAMATION OF THE MARIAN YEAR”, PASTORAL LETTERS 1945-1995, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, p.590
3. THE MARIAN YEAR 1985: A Pilgrimage of Hope with Our Blessed Mother, Pastoral Exhortation on the Marian Year, PASTORAL LETTERS 1945-1995, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, no. 5, p.594.
4. Ibid, no. 6, p. 594-595
5. Ibid, no. 7, p. 595
6. An Eyewitness History PEOPLE POWER: The Philippine Revolution of 1986, Monina Allarey Mercado, editor, p. 109.
7. The Marian Profile in the Ecclesiology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Brendan Leahy, New City Press, 2000, page 195
8. Ibid, page 196
9. Adversus Haereses IV, 33, 4 and IV, 33, 11.
10. The Marian Profile, Brendan Leahy, p. 22-23
11. The National Catechetical Directory of the Philippines, p. 92, “Mary: Model of Faith, no. 204)
12. An Eyewitness History PEOPLE POWER: The Philippine Revolution of 1986, Monina Allarey Mercado, editor, p. 305
13. Ibid p. 306