MANILA, December 27, 2003  (STAR) AT 3:00 A.M. By James B. Reuter, S.J. - The Blessed Virgin Mary is well-known for her apparition at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe. But there is an amazing story of the Virgin appearing in the Philippines exactly four hundred years ago – at Taal, Batangas. There she is venerated as "Our Lady of Caysasay".

The image was found by a fisherman named Juan Maningcad, in 1603, in the Pansipit River in Barrio Caysasay, in the town of Taal, Batangas. It was a village filled with kingfishers, known in the local dialect as "casay-casay." The Spaniards pronounced this: "Caysasay".

Juan carried the image home. The whole village came to know about it. It was a little statue of the Immaculate Conception, only six inches tall, radiating a luster which struck them all as heavenly. They brought the image to the town of Taal, then by the shore of Lake Bombon, which is now Taal Lake. The image was placed in the care of the widow of the town’s judge. She had a special urn made for its safekeeping.

Then strange things began to happen. One day she found the urn empty. But the next morning the image was back in the urn. This was repeated a number of times. So she reported it to the parish priest. The priest set up vo-lunteers to keep vigil beside the urn. They saw the urn open, by itself. And they saw "with their own eyes" the image going out and coming back again.

The priest decided that the villagers should come with lighted candles and follow the image. The image led them to Caysasay, to the place where it was found. The priest decided to transfer the image from the widow's house to the town church. But the same thing happened in the church! Then one day the image disappeared. It was nowhere to be found.

Years later, in 1611, two women gathering firewood saw the image reflected in the spring water, near the place where it was originally found. They looked up, and saw the image on top of a tall sampaguita bush. The women reported what they saw to the parish priest. The people and the priest concluded that it was the Virgin’s wish to stay in Caysasay. So they built a chapel on the very spot where the image was found.

On that spot Our Lady appeared to a native girl, Juana Tangui, who was almost blind. Her eyes were cured, at the time of the vision. This was recorded by the church "Ordinario". The well water is now known as "Balon Ng Santa Lucia". The adjoining stream is called "Banal na Tubig." An arch was constructed over the place of the apparitions. It is now called "Ang Banal Na Pook". To this day miraculous cures are attributed to her intercession, and a stream of devotees visit Our Lady of Caysasay in her shrine, and in the Basilica.

The first chapel was torn down in 1639, to be replaced by a coral stone structure. That year saw the outbreak of the Sangley revolution, when more than 20,000 Chinese were massacred, including 20 Chinese stonemasons who were constructing the Shrine. One of the masons was Hay Bing, also known as Juan Imbing. People witnessed his execution and saw his body thrown into the lake with the others. But that night he was led by Our Lady to the wells beside the unfinished shrine. Our Lady said to him: "Continue to build my church". The Shrine was finished in 1640.

This cemented the relationship of the Chinese community in the Philippines with the Blessed Virgin Mary. To this day the Filipino Chinese communities of Northern Luzon, based in San Fernando, La Union and the communities of the Southern Luzon, based in Batangas City, come on yearly pilgrimage to visit her Shrine in Taal.

In 1732 the town of Taal became the prosperous capital of the Province of Taal. Bombon Lake was renamed Taal Lake. Its prosperity came from provisioning the galleons coming from Acapulco to Manila. These galleons found protection from typhoons in Taal Lake, which was then salt water. They honored Our Lady with cannon bursts as they passed in front of her shrine.

The most violent eruption of the Taal Volcano occurred in 1754. It lasted more than eight months. The lava almost closed the Pansipit River, and raised the water of the lake so high that it flooded out the lake towns of Tanauan, Lipa, Sala, Bauan and Taal. All five towns relocated inland, away from the volcano, toward the mountains. The townspeople of Taal, together with their parish priest, fled from their submerged capital town and sought refuge at the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay. The present beautiful town of Taal was established on a hillside, overlooking the Shrine and Balayan Bay. From that time Taal Lake was transformed from a salt water lake to a fresh water lake. Divers, swimming in the Taal Lake, are amazed at the abandoned towns they discover, in the depths of the lake.

The incumbent mayor of the town of Taal was so traumatized by the terrible eruption that he fled to Batangas, bringing with him the seat of government. From that time on, Batangas became the Capital Town, and the Province of Taal was renamed "Batangas".

In 1854 – exactly one hundred years after the great eruption of the Taal Volcano – the Holy Father declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, to be observed by the universal Church. The Feast was set on December 8, which was the exact day on which Juan Maningcad found the image of Our Lady of Caysasay. And the Virgin Mary, under that title — the Immaculate Conception — is the national patron of the Philippines. And the Philippines has only two Holy Days of Obligation: Christmas, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1952, Bishop Rufino J. Santos – who later became the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila – decreed that the Image of Our Lady of Caysasay be permanently enshrined in her Sanctuary of Caysasay. But the people of the town of Taal requested the Holy Father that the Image be brought to Taal Basilica of Saint Martin every Saturday afternoon. This was granted. She now stays in the Basilica as Queen, or Reyna, until Thursday. They she is brought back to her Shrine at Caysasay, where she is honored as Mother, or Ina. This has kept the devotion to her alive, at least in two places. Her devotees call her: "ANG BIRHENG GALA".

In 1954–exactly two hundred years after the great Taal eruption — on December 8, the Image of Our Lady of Caysasay was canonically crowned at the Taal Basilica by Cardinal Quiroga, representing His Holiness Pope Pius XII.

On this year’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception – December 8, 2003 – the Filipinos celebrated the 400th anniversary of the finding of the Image of Our Lady of Caysasay in the Pansipit River, in Caysasay, Taal, Batangas. Our Lady of Lourdes was seen by Bernadette Soubirous, a simple peasant girl. Our Lady of Guadalupe was met on the mountainside by Juan Diego, a poor barefooted Mexican farmer who never went to school. Our Lady of Fatima appeared to three peasant children, none of whom went to school. They did not know how to say the Hail Mary, or the Our Father, or the Creed. And Our Lady of Caysasay came to us through Juan Maningcad, a fisherman.

The apparitions of Our Lady of Caysasay to Juana Tangui in 1611 are the first recorded apparitions of Our Blessed Mother in the Philippines, and in the whole continent of Asia.

Magellan gave the Santo Niño to the Princess Juana, in Cebu, in 1521. The image is the same as the Infant of Prague. But the statue did not appear in Prague until 1625 – 104 years later. It would really seem that God and his mother have a special concern for the Philippines.

Next Thursday, New Year’s Day, is the Feast of the Motherhood of Mary. She was given to us as a mother by Christ Our Lord, on Calvary. And that is the name she is called, at Caysasay: "Mother", "Ina". And the Filipinos are the only ones who refer to her, universally, as "Mama Mary".

She will watch over us in this coming year, 2004. She and her Son will draw all our evils into good. God draws straight, with crooked lines.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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