[Last Friday, I shared excerpts from Msgr. Pope’s recent blog piece which included passages from the messages of Our Lady of Akita. (The complete set of messages can be found here.) In the above photo, the statue which has been exquisitely carved from glorious, dark, New Zealand wood, was commissioned by our friend, Joe Crozier, and is a replica of the miraculous statue in Akita. This one has been placed in the Garabandal Pilgrim Centre in the village of Garabandal. As noted previously here, Joe was inspired to commission four more carvings of Our Lady of Akita to ensure her presence on each continent and to make her message known. Charlie received the statue for America last June and transferred guardianship of the beautiful image to my care. It is my task to, eventually, bring her to her permanent home, the Shrine of Thanksgiving. In light of Msgr. Pope’s article, I asked Joe to share with us about his pilgrimage to Akita. He graciously agreed to do so and I’m pleased to publish his sublime, heartfelt and heartwarming reflection. ~Beckita]
Our Becks (she who must be obeyed) has asked me to share my reflections on my pilgrimage to Akita. During my stay and after my return, I wrote a long letter to my old mum, 32 pages long, all about my time in Japan, but will try to keep this to the brief.
I had been to Garabandal in May 2013 and I knew then that my pilgrimage was incomplete. I had come to believe that the appearance of Mary in Akita went one step further and amplified the concerns and directions given by her in Garabandal. I had been given wondrous graces in Garabandal but had not been in such a great state, spiritually or mentally or emotionally and, much to my shame, I failed to grow and tend my graces and they atrophied due to this neglect. Thank God “His Mercy is from age to age on those who fear him.” Neither He nor His Mother abandoned me but gave me the desire and means to go to Akita. I needed to hear the echo of her messages from Garabandal and in this way to be refreshed and restored. Once again, I needed to be rescued.
Although Garabandal has been described to me as a continuation of Fatima, I see it as the start of the lower edge of a Samurai sword and Amsterdam as the start of the upper edge of the same blade that draws east to a sharp point in Akita, a blade that pierced both the side of Jesus and the Heart of Mary in her Seven Sorrows that drew blood from the hand of her miraculous statue and caused her to weep many bitter tears.
It struck me how the wording of the messages given by Mary in Garabandal and in Akita are in parts almost identical. She spoke of the apostasy in the Church and the great fall away of consecrated men and women with Church leaders opposing each other. In both places, Mary spoke of a great Chastisement if mankind did not repent and start to lead better lives. The description of the Chastisement was the same in both Akita and Garabandal. This expression of God’s anger would be dreadful, unbearable, terrifying and severe beyond our imagination. Fire above and below, despair and total powerlessness. So bad that survivors would “envy the dead.” The exact phrase, “envy the dead,” was used in both places. It would be a time when there would be no consolation and forgiveness would no longer be available for those who persisted in sin, even after having experienced the Divine Mercy of the Warning and the wonder of the Great Miracle. The conditional Chastisement would become certain if man did not change. The punishment would be literally hell on earth. This description given in Akita perfectly reflected the last warnings given in Garabandal. But to me, it seemed to suggest that Chastisement, by the time of Mary’s visitation to Akita, had already become more certain and less conditional. In Akita, the message was more urgent and forceful than ever.
And yet my first and enduring impression of Akita was one of the great personal beauty of Mary and the immense benevolence of her presence and power; perfectly tender and triumphant. So strong. “Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto thee, Oh Virgin of virgins, my Mother.” A veritable tigress but one who poses no threat – only a desire to direct, protect, shelter, empower and spare – to provide us with all we need in order to survive well the calamities that approach. A leader, a co-redemptrix and one who can plead our cause to her Son and our Father in the Power of their Holy Spirit which fills her with grace. So, no wonder that while Garabandal gave weight and balance from below to the blade, Amsterdam had been chosen to counterbalance the blade from above.
For it was in Amsterdam that our Lady appeared to Ida Peerdeman in 1945 and, through Ida, asked the Church to make her known across the world as The Lady of All Nations/ Mother of All Peoples in keeping with the role and rank bestowed on her by God as the one who alone can save us from the calamities which approach in our times. In Fatima also, Our Lady told us that she alone would be able to save us from what lay ahead. This is her assignment but like any leader she needs loyal soldiers who respect Her command. She was no longer to be thought of simply as Mary, not only addressed as Our Lady, but from then on, under the title of The Lady of All Nations, promoted to the rank of one who has promised and can facilitate salvation for all who place their confidence in her. Sadly, in both Amsterdam and Garabandal her messages have been neglected and her requests denied as they were for some time in Fatima.
No wonder she wept in Akita. Not only did she weep in Akita but The Lady shed blood and sweat in her love and concern for us just like Jesus did in his passion. In Akita, the blood, sweat and tears shed so copiously from her miraculous statue showed her to truly be our co-redemptrix. She appeared through her statue to Sister Agnes Sasagawa who also suffered the stigmata. As if to emphasize the necessity for all mankind to hear and harken to her messages, Sister Agnes was cured of her deafness. In Akita, The Lady’s image wept 101 times, ending on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in 1973. Sister Agnes was told by her guardian angel that the number 101 had meaning: the first 1 represented Eve, the 0 represented the eternal love of God (as does a wedding ring) and the second 1 was Mary.
To me, this said that just as Jesus was the second Adam so his mother was the second Eve. For us steppers, this has particular significance in terms of The Rescue – “A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.” Just so, a second Eve to the fight and to the rescue came. Charlie tells us the Rescue will come by the end of this year. I do not pretend to sufficiently understand Charlie’s prophesy but I do believe in and sufficiently understand the rescue that will be offered in the Warning and confirmed in the Miracle of conversion that will happen in Garabandal. By that Miracle, all will be drawn to the Catholic faith in true ecumenism. I do believe in The Lady of Conversion to whom Charlie has so much devotion. Today in the homily, our priest spoke of the three Cs in the life of faith: Commitment, Conversion and Conviction. We should not wait until the prophesied events come to pass before we start to put these into better action. The time for me to change is now.
And so it came to pass in 1963, right in the middle of Mary’s time in Garabandal 1961-65, when it was already clear that compliance with her messages was being denied, that a skilled Buddhist Japanese carver, named Saboro Wakasa, was commissioned by nuns of the Institute of Handmaids of the Eucharist to carve an image of Our Lady for their convent. He based this carving on a copy of the painting of The Lady of All Nations that hung in Amsterdam. His statue was completed using the ancient skill of one blade carving and using one piece of timber from a Judas Tree. Like Our Lords garment, it had no joints – it was seamless. The carver would not have known of this significance.
It was no coincidence that part of Our Lady’s messages in Garabandal expressed concern at the poor regard given to the Eucharist, that it was being accorded less and less importance. It was no coincidence that Amsterdam was chosen in recognition of the Eucharistic miracle of 1345, exactly 600 years before her appearance in Amsterdam and the Eucharistic processions that followed. Such processions were banned by the Reformation in 1578 but continued in secret and silence until reinstated on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2004, when once again Amsterdam became “City of the Eucharist.”
Mary told the girls in Garabandal that she liked to be near her Son. The beautifully wood- crafted Japanese styled chapel in Akita accommodates this wish with sliding panels allowing pilgrims to see her statue and the tabernacle at the same time. There is also a carving of St Joseph in the chapel so that she can be near him too.
Our Lady and St Joseph took good care of me. All my times and connections, from the start to the end of my pilgrimage, were just right and easy to make and I arrived at my hotel in Akita before check-in time. I immediately asked for directions to the shrine. The girl at the front desk knew about “the statue that cried.” She directed me to the bus station. All the signs were in Japanese so I went to the information desk. They did not speak English. I have a large Miraculous Medal given to me by my mum in Lourdes and I showed the image of the Immaculate Conception on it to the staff and they immediately said “Ah Maria.” Japan is not a Catholic country but they knew where I wanted to go. They gave me the number of the bus and directed me to the right pick up point. As I entered the bus, I showed the medal to the driver who also exclaimed, “Ah Maria,”and he indicated he knew what stop was mine. When we arrived, he got out and showed me the way that led to the shrine. Then he climbed back in and continued on his route.
I walked up the path through the cool woods passing several Buddhist cemeteries and arrived at the shrine after 10 minutes or so. The nun who greeted me spoke a little English. The nun asked if I was alone and how I came to be there. I briefly told her about Garabandal but she had never heard of it. She was fascinated, however, by how similar the messages were to those of Akita.
I could not wait to see the miraculous statue but first paid my respects to the Blessed Sacrament. I then spent the next few hours sitting in front of the miraculous statue, in view of the tabernacle “next door.” It felt like a few minutes. There was a sign asking pilgrims to refrain from touching the statue but I was given permission to touch my Garabandal relic to its eyes and hands. In Garabandal, I had touched it to the scapular that St Michael had kissed – the only object he kissed there.
The nun told me there was Mass in Akita at 5.30 and I was able to confess before it even though the Chinese priest could not speak English. He had to be persuaded by one of the local ladies to hear my confession. I really wanted this to be a good pilgrimage and a good confession would make a good start. The fact that the priest could not understand me meant little. I knew my confession was true.
The co-celebrant at Mass was a Philippino priest. In the church in the city, the collection is taken up before Mass and taken down at the offertory. At the sign of peace, everyone bows to each other – no shaking hands or kissing. Most of the ladies wear white mantillas. After Mass, I ate in a local restaurant where the waitress told me her father and grandfather had been Church of England priests and had baptised her but she could not remember her Christian name. She too knew of “Maria” as they all call Our Lady here. I slept well that night, full of Mary’s peace, full of Mary’s grace.
Next day as I made my way past the two chained village guard dogs near the start of the path through the woods to the shrine, I met the Philippino priest who had con-celebrated Sunday Mass. He was in civvies and looked quite shabby and was surprised when I addressed him as Father and told him I had recognized his accent during Mass. His name was Fr Santiago, a priest of the Divine Word, and we stood and chatted for ages. I told him I had once visited Cebu and had a Philippino friend at seminary who is now a priest (I was at seminary for two years.) where I also befriended a Japanese priest called Francis Hirata whom Fr Santiago knew well. We are never alone or far from home when we are at home with Mary and our Catholic family. Mary is the ultimate home maker and makes us feel at home.
In the grounds of the shrine, there is a “Way of the Cross.” On the entrance arch to the stations, there is a “beware of bears” sign. These bears are a very real danger and are aggressive. It was hard to concentrate on the stations as I kept an eye open for bears. My walk through the woods was never quite as relaxed as before. The Cantabrian Mountains of Garabandal are also home to bears and it did not escape me that the bear is the sign of Russia and how Communism and Russia are prophesied as the forthcoming Tribulation.
In my visit to Garabandal, I came across Griffin vultures. That made me think of the scripture: “Wherever the body is there the vultures/eagles will gather.” In Akita, they have the large black kite which looks like an eagle. The eagle is also the symbol of St John the Evangelist, the first member of our Church under the Motherhood of Mary. As I began the Way of the Cross, a great black kite rose majestically in front of me from behind a row of trees. The nuns explained to me that they regard it as a friendly bird because it kills and eats the poisonous snakes found in the grounds of the convent.
It makes me think that maybe Isaiah also refers to the Lady of Revelation, Clothed with the sun/Son, the only clothing/ wedding garment that entitles us to attend and partake of the heavenly banquet, our protectress and the protected one. The Lady of Conversion is framed by the sun as she emerges from heaven in Tepeyac. She is borne of The Light, full of Grace, pregnant with the Christ Child and gives birth to The Light: God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Jesus through Mary.
“And I will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of my hand.”
Here we have the power of the eagles’ wings and the radiance of Mary, the bright morning star and the hand of God.
“Beyond the clouds that hide his hand, there where thou canst not see, in ways that only He can understand, God works for thee,”
After the child of Revelation had been snatched up to God, the serpent continued to pursue the woman but she was given the wings of an eagle so she could fly to safety. The place of safety is the palm of God and the arms of John, the destroyers of the serpent, at the foot of the cross. The devil is filled with fury because he knows his time is short – never truer than now.
One day, a bus filled with Vietnamese pilgrims arrived, they were all in in traditional dress. I was told Mass would be said at 10am. Some of them spoke English and I told them about my friend Fr Joseph Lam Cong Luong who I only rediscovered yesterday. He escaped from Communist torture in Vietnam, became one of the boat people, and attended the same seminary as me in London. I have written to him but not yet heard back. A Muslim man was steering their primitive craft by the stars but it was a cloudy night. A lady appeared at the bow of the boat and pointed him in the right direction. They were picked up by a merchant ship and when they arrived at port he recognized the lady in a statue of Mary on the wharf. The whole family became Catholic.
The Vietnamese pilgrims sang hymns in their native tongue but still you could hear the word, “Maria.” And you could recognise the cadence of the Hail Marys when they said the rosary. It all gave the same effect of listening to the Lourdes hymn in Lourdes – a totally different tune but it gave me the same feeling of being at home. In Garabandal, I did not really feel at home until a bus load of French pilgrims sang the Lourdes hymn in the village church. Then the tears of gratitude flowed. The Vietnamese priest did not have much English. At the sign of peace, in contrast to the formal bowing in the church in town, everyone joined hands and danced. On leaving the church, the Vietnamese priest shook my hand and spoke to me in faltering English. He said “You are home.” Once again the tears flowed.
Each day 0f my pilgrimage, I had taken the 8.10 am bus that carried only me and a few handicapped people who had Downs Syndrome. Although they had smiled and nodded at me before, that was the first day they spoke/signed. They all laughed when they discovered I was 60. Downs people have great laughs. They also reminded me of the Downs Children we took to Lourdes and who sang with great gusto, “Give God the Glory Glory, children of the Lord.” Saints every one of them.
Of the many teachings Our Lady gave at Garabandal to the visionaries and all of us, one of the most important was the importance of charity, especially to the mentally afflicted. There was a man with such problems in the village who was misunderstood and mistreated. They were even going to throw him out of the village. Conchita reported, “The Virgin told us: ‘You despise him, but I love him.'” A response like this put us down, making us see our great lack of charity.”
Every time I sat in front of the miraculous statue in Akita, the hours would fly by. Normally the church was closed for a couple of hours during the day but the nuns gave me special permission to stay there on my own. Just me and Jesus and Mary and St Joseph.
Can you remember being in love and nothing was too much? Maybe I am just a romantic but that is how it felt in Mary’s presence. One day, the nuns beckoned me and took me behind the screen of the main altar to a room where they showed me the cottons that had wiped the blood and tears of the miraculous statue. I felt so special.
One day after I had said 20 decades of the rosary for Mary’s intentions, a group of European looking pilgrims arrived. It was August 14 2014. I picked one out of the group as being a priest and introduced myself to him. I also introduced myself to a pretty girl called Stephanie (there is not much hope for me) who saw through me immediately. They then began to say the rosary, mostly in Japanese, but as a favour to me said some prayers in English. They invited me to lead a decade. Among the group were two men from Tarbres, near Lourdes, and the French priest was a resident of New York – where Conchita of Garabandal lives. Once again, I felt at home. Stephanie came from Lyon and spoke very good English. I chatted with her for ages. She was very patient. They were all fluent in Japanese and were volunteers helping with survivors of the tsunami. When the girls sang, they sounded like angels and once again made me cry a little. They laughed when I said I was just a big baby. The priest laughed too and said I cried just like the miraculous statue had cried.
He gave the homily in English and it was all about St Maximilian Kolbe. It inspired me to consecrate myself to Mary which I did on my return to New Zealand with the thirty day exercise. During a childhood vision, Mary offered St Maximilian a choice between the crowns of purity or martyrdom. He chose both. He was given both. He founded a monastery on the outskirts of Nagasaki. He also founded a Japanese newspaper and a seminary which is still going strong. The monastery survived the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, the year that Mary appeared to Ida Peerdeman in Amsterdam as The Lady of All Nations and Mother of All Peoples. He became a prisoner in Auschwitz where he kept up the spirits of fellow prisoners with his prayers and hymns to Mary.
In the end, he volunteered his life in place of a stranger who had been sentenced to death. The Nazis finished him off with an injection of carbolic acid to which he meekly raised his arm in acceptance and submission. His body was cremated on the Feast of the Assumption and Pope St John Paul II canonised him on October 10 1982. This got to me too because JPII had knighted my old dad twice in recognition of his services to the life of the Catholic Church.
It turned out that the French pilgrims had taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for the eighteen months duration of their voluntary work. This work was a great service in which they suffered at the hands of Japanese officialdom and custom that thwarted their efforts to help those in need. This was faith in action which shamed my paltry efforts. They were tough but humble and gentle – just like Mary. My ancestors came from Normandy in France. I have always felt an affinity for France, the first daughter of Mary. The first house in which I lived was named Loreto – the name of the house in which Mary lived. My first ancestor of whom I am aware was a William Crozier who carried the Cross into battle for Bishop Oddo, the half brother of William the Conqueror. Perhaps this is where my love of France began – in the work of the cross.
One of my favourite authors at school was the Frenchman, Albert Camus who, although atheist, believed in the goodness that can be found in man. One day when I had got lost in the country, I was suffering from wandering in the heat for hours. There was no shelter from the sun. After a while, an old Japanese gentleman crossed the road to me from his humble country dwelling and, by sign language, indicated he knew I was in trouble and was lost. He went back to his house and returned shortly in his car with his daughter who could speak English. They drove me all the way back to my hotel which took them about one hour. It turned out that his daughter had worked in the very hotel in which I was staying. They refused to take any money for the fuel. They even stopped for a few moments at the Shrine of Akita and prayed to Mary. I was very moved by this and saw the full potential for conversion of all those of good will like this elderly man and his daughter. They do not have far to go. As Mary said to the seers of Garabandal of a Protestant visitor to Garabandal: “He too is my son.”
On August 15th, the Feast of The Assumption, I attended Mass in the church in Akita City which was next to a field of water lilies. The Lily of the Valley had been here in person. I was drenched in the typhoon on the way to Mass. The Mass was beautiful and sung and another Philippino priest con-celebrated. After Mass, he told me he had family living in Wellington, New Zealand. I was being prepared for my sorrowful parting and return to my other home. Whenever I visit my family in Scotland, I find it incredibly painful to say goodbye especially to my old mum. Just so the pain of saying goodbye to my Mother in Akita was mounting.
I had not been able to say goodbye and thank you properly the previous day to my new French friends and had heard they had already left. I returned to the the shrine after Mass on the 15th. The Mass at the shrine had been at 7am – too early for the bus. I sat in silence in the chapel of the miraculous statue, looking at her and she at me. This was my last visit.
A Buddhist woman came into the chapel (seemingly they often do) and asked by the use of her hands if it was ok for her to pray at the statue. I pointed at the globe of All Nations on which the statue is mounted and at the open arms of Mary and she understood that Mary was the Mother of All Peoples. She knelt and prayed.
Suddenly I heard a commotion behind me and there were the French pilgrims packed and ready to go. And there was the beautiful Stephanie who had made a small gift for me and placed it in a sealed envelope which she had intended to leave with the nuns in the hope that they could forward it to me. She asked that I wait until she had gone before opening it.
Inside was a beautiful note on special paper, handwritten in Japanese characters on one side with a translation on the other. This is what was written on her note:
“ Jesus said I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28-20
Thanks for your present (I had given her a ring rosary from New Zealand with the image of St Joseph). May you always show to the other the sign of God.
God bless you
Well that was not only the end of my pilgrimage – it was the end of me. Just like when I say goodbye to mum in Scotland, it took me quite a while to compose myself. Who needs a typhoon while Joe is around.
I did not understand the full significance of this note until I became a member of the family of Faith here on TNRS where we are told to hearten the faithful, defend the faith and defend the faithful by first acknowledging God, taking the next right step and being a sign of hope for others. Or as Stephanie said, “May you always show to the other the sign of God.”