THE name Bishop Alfredo Verzosa wouldn’t ring a bell among Filipino Catholics thus, for those who knew him, it is disheartening that he didn’t enjoy public admiration commensurate to the travails that he lived through and the consequent accomplishments he made during his lifetime for the sake of faith and the Catholic Church in the Philippines.
Verzosa is the first Ilocano bishop and the first Filipino bishop of the Diocese of Lipa. He is known as the “great builder.” From 1917 to 1951, Verzosa built catechetical centers, schools, churches, seminaries and convents.
The bishop founded the Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart. He is also instrumental in the flourishing of foreign religious congregations in the Philippines. Some have testified that Verzosa even used his own inheritance money to subsidize some of his projects, which caused the bishop to later spend his retirement in poverty.
Apparently, the defining moment in Verzosa’s priesthood is when he bravely stood up for the Catholic church at a time when it was under siege.
Shortly after the defeat of the Spanish colonial forces in the Philippines, a strong sense of patriotism enveloped the Philippine Catholic church and many priests left because of the church’s history of complicity with the oppressors.
As a young priest of Nueva Segovia, situated in the Ilocos region, Verzosa believed in the transformation of the church rather than for its obliteration. He zealously won back the devotees amid the threats and danger to his life. At one point, according to testimonies, a spear meant for him hit and killed his horse.
During World War II, Verzosa, who was bishop of the Diocese of Lipa, with hundreds of devotees were hauled inside the cathedral by Japanese soldiers. The bishop had accepted his fate and kneeled in front of altar while waiting for their execution.
Miraculously, the soldiers apparently miscommunicated with their superior and released the Filipino Catholics instead of killing them.
After the war, Verzosa immediately went to work on rebuilding Catholic churches, schools, seminaries and convents that were destroyed during the fighting.
The bishop built the Carmelite monastery in the town of Lipa, right on the very spot where hundreds of people were massacred by the rampaging Japanese soldiers.
In 1948, a young postulant from the said monastery claimed seeing apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and rose petals were also reported to have showered the convent on certain times.
Many times, Verzosa discouraged the pilgrimage of devotees to the convent and refused to acknowledge the supposed “miracles.” But later on, after the bishop had his own persuasive experience at the convent, he adopted a tolerant policy.
“If it is really from God, who am I to judge it,” Verzosa was quoted by subordinates.
The apparitions and the shower of rose petals were declared as hoaxes by the Catholic Church based on the conclusion of a fact-finding mission.
Verzosa did not contradict the verdict of the Catholic Church but was subsequently relieved from his post. He was sent to his hometown of Vigan and given the title of Titular Bishop of Capsa, a diocese that was no longer in existence at that time.
The life story of Verzosa was recently shown in a household owned by Fely Batas in Panorama City.
One of those present, Marife Dziuk, said the film showing was hastily organized by devotees because of the presence here in Los Angeles of Rev. Fr. Ericson Josue, an authority on the life and works of Bishop Verzosa.
Father Josue explained that as soon as the person is accepted for consideration for sainthood, he/she is called a Servant of God.
The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints determines whether the servant of God lived a life of heroic virtue and granted the title of venerable.
After the Church establishes one miracle, the venerable person’s cause is presented to the Pope in a process called beatification.
Another miracle and the blessed person’s cause is presented again to the Pope for his judgment. If all goes well, the candidate is publicly recognized as a saint.
Of course, the push for the sainthood of Bishop Verzosa need a lot help from devotees. And Father Josue admitted that it was very weak even in the Philippines itself.
“It would certainly help his (Verzosa) cause if the Filipino American community here in Los Angeles would organize a support group,” Josue added.