Sunday Lifestyle

The Tombstone

- Tony Perez -
On Tuesday, April 12, 2005, I got an urgent call from Fr. Salvatore Arlante, rector of Interfaith New Testament Seminary. He told me they had recently purchased an old, three-story building, a former dormitory for professionals, adjacent to the seminary lot. Building administrator Carlitos Haguisan, who was currently supervising the remodeling, was "seeing things." While supervising work on the ground floor, Carlitos claimed that he saw the spirits of former tenants. He was able to converse with them, and afterwards prayed for them. He then saw them smiling, waving goodbye to him and "moving on."

Carlitos claimed that there were two angry spirits that refused to move on – a male spirit and a female spirit – and that they were upset the building was being gutted and remodeled. When he asked them why they were angry, neither of them would tell him.

According to Fr. Arlante, it wasn’t just Carlitos who experienced strange manifestations in the building. After the property had been turned over to the seminary, the previous owners disconnected three public phones in the lobby, yet at 11 p.m. one night in February, one of the telephones started ringing. The perplexed security guard, Ismael Castaño, picked up the receiver and heard "a rushing sound" similar to the noise on overseas calls. A woman on the other end of the line asked for an Anthony Stephen Cuerva. The guard replied that there was no such person, but the woman was adamant, claiming that she herself was a former tenant in the building, which she described as a two-story structure.

Ismael politely explained to the woman that the building was three floors and that it was in the process of being renovated. The woman seemed stricken by the guard’s reply. She said that it was most important that she speak to "Mr. Cuerva" because "there is something in the building that belongs to Mr. Cuerva, and he wants it back."

A week later, Carlitos noted the presence of termites in a double-walled partition behind one of the common service areas, Kitchen 202, on the second floor. As workers peeled off one of the termite-infested boards, a rectangular tombstone fell out, bearing the following inscription:

Anthony Stephen Cuerva

Died January 23, 1970
Oberlin, Louisiana

Carlitos immediately reported the find to Fr. Arlante, who told him to wrap the tombstone in brown paper and set it aside. Fr. Arlante then attempted to contact the former owners of the building. Only a third-generation daughter-in-law, Shella R. Javellana, and her cousin Oscar Sayre, seemed to recall "a male tenant named Cuerva. He often entertained foreign visitors in his unit and was unable to pay his rent on time."

For the entire month of March, the priest celebrated daily Masses and prayed the rosary for the soul of Anthony, yet Carlitos continued to encounter the angry male spirit on the ground floor of the building and the angry female spirit on the second floor.

At this point, Fr. Arlante contacted the Spirit Questors.

I later informed him that 13 of us Spirit Questors would go to the seminary. I assigned all members of the Quest Team to perform remote scanning and initial readings with tarot cards to gain advance information.

Fr. Arlante asked to be part of the Quest Circle, and to include Carlitos, the security guard Ismael, and the seminary librarian Fr. Henry I. Novales.

The members of the Quest Team were Chi de Jesus, a television producer; Mike Luy, a third-year medical intern at St. Luke’s College of Medicine; Michael Duque, a registered nurse based in London, on vacation in the Philippines; Elo Rebollido, a theater director; Tina Tayag, a registered nurse and faculty member of Lyceum of the Philippines; Ian Opeña, a businessman; Sheila Medallon, a resolution specialist; Richard So, an occupational therapist; Chris Constantino, a graduate student of psychology at De La Salle University; Theo Sunico, an employee at a power company; Ryan Valera, a customer relationship management specialist; and Rachelle Santos, a real estate broker. I served as quest facilitator.

We gathered in the rector’s conference room on May 5, 2005. Fr. Novales brought with him a white taper and a dinner plate that we would use during the quest. I asked Carlitos to lead the team through all three floors so they could perform a scanning and determine the best place to form a circle. In the meantime, Ismael brought out the tombstone. It was an inch thick and made of cement out of a standard mold. I was a little disappointed because I expected an antique piece that had been sculpted out of marble. What surprised me, however, was how small the tombstone was. Either Anthony Stephen was a little boy or the tombstone was made to identify old bones that had been placed inside an ossuary.

The Quest Team channels returned to the courtyard half an hour later. They said there were three locations where we could form a circle: a common living room where former tenants received their visitors on the second floor; the interior of Kitchen 202, where the tombstone had been found, also on the second floor; and a vacated space formerly occupied by a book store with an entrance facing a side street intersecting Tandang Sora Avenue, on the ground floor. Mike came up to me and said that he had identified a third place on the second floor that gave him a heavy feeling – a rest room – where, he was certain, a pregnant woman had "performed an abortion on herself."

We decided to form a circle in the former bookstore. It was dark and quiet despite the white walls and flooring. I asked Michael to light the candle and set it on the plate in the center of our circle. I lit a small tea light and placed it at my feet, signifying my own offering of light and indicating to the spirits that I would be serving as facilitator.

We held hands and waited. I led the participants through a focusing exercise, asking them to gaze at the flame of the white taper, close their eyes, open their eyes and gaze at the flame again, close their eyes again while retaining the image of the flame, and then open their eyes once more. I knew that, upon opening their eyes at the end of the exercise, the channels would already be able see what kind of spirits, and how many spirits, had come near our circle.

Michael said that there were four or five human spirits standing outside the circle and watching us, including a thin young man, dark like a shadow, a child yet no longer a child. All of them seemed aloof and reluctant to converse with any one of us. The other channels confirmed this vision. One particularly cynical male spirit, according to Chi, insisted that we wait for "the time, the time," when all of the spirits would come out and show themselves to us.

Chi saw that another male spirit, dressed in a polo barong, stood near him. There was anger, a heavy, depressing feeling. I asked Carlitos whether this was the man that he saw. Carlitos replied that he could not be sure as the spirit always had his face turned away from him when he appeared.

We had to gain the man’s trust. I asked Chi how old he appeared to him. "Late 40s or 50s," Chi said.

I asked him how the man had passed away. "Heart disease."

I led a round of introductions to the spirits, particularly the man, whom we addressed as "Mr. Cuervas," explaining who we were, what we do, why we do what we do, and that we were here to help him.

After we introduced ourselves Chi could see not only the man, but the woman, who was standing near the entrance to the courtyard. The woman was grieving, the man continued to express anger but, Chi qualified, this anger was directed mainly at himself.

The primary channeling settled on Chi for the rest of the quest; it was clear that he had been chosen.

I asked the man how we could help him, he said the damage done was irreversible; the woman continued weeping outside the circle.

I asked Chi if he could detect an emotional connection between the two. He said there was.

With contributions from the secondary channels we were able to piece together their story:

The man and woman were neighboring tenants in the building. He was a part-time lecturer in a nearby college, she was a graduate student. They spent many hours together in the common area on the second floor. A brief romance ensued, culminating in a moment of abandoned passion. She became pregnant before completing her academic units for her master’s degree. The man had no intention of marrying her – his finances were unstable, he was losing interest in the relationship, he was not ready to make a commitment.

Despondent over the turn of events, she performed a self-abortion in the second-floor restroom and flushed the remains of her baby in the toilet. She went back to her home province and he never saw her again.

Haunted not by ghosts but by memories, he found himself drifting into remorse. He had the tombstone made in memory of his son. He informed his landlord that he was going to make kitchen repairs, but instead sealed it inside the double wall. He would carefully guard this wall, especially when carpenters and painters puttered around to do real repairs.

After his death the man continued to guard the little tombstone as if to atone for his sins. He was alarmed over its eventual discovery. By this time, the woman had also passed away but she had remained connected to him – her spirit traveled from wherever she was to come and help him reclaim their secret.

During the quest the man vehemently denied that he had been in love. What grieved him and what ultimately angered him was that he had caused her so much pain and anguish. He felt that he had destroyed not only the life of their unborn child but her life as well.

I pointed out to him that many are blind to the presence of love, thinking that it should be something spectacular. I said that a split-second of love is still love, as long as it is truthful, that love need not be fiercely expressed but sadly people always expect it to be. It was this basic denial of love, I believed, that had kept both spirits earthbound.

I said to the man that the proof he had loved not only the woman but their child as well was that he gave the child his name. I advised him to acknowledge his love. I also asked him to liberate himself from the past, and in so doing he would liberate the spirits of the woman and their unborn.

He said he didn’t know how to do that.

I reminded him that anything carved in stone is intended to last forever. I proposed that we destroy the tombstone and thereby set him free. He confessed that he had long waited for someone to offer him a solution like this. He requested that the broken pieces of the tombstone be thrown into the sea, a symbol of the universal amniotic fluid from which all of us emerge, and are born.

I requested the man to give messages to everyone. Chi relayed the messages to us, except the one for himself, which he said he preferred not to reveal to everyone.

The man promised he would not disturb the people who would come and live in the new dormitory, but he asked that an image of the Holy Family be placed on a wall on the second floor to remind all who looked upon it of the sanctity of marriage and the values of family life. Somehow, I felt that this last request was from the woman.

We went to the courtyard and rearranged our chairs in a circle. Ismael set a sheet of white plastic in the middle of the circle and placed the tombstone in the center. The taper had not yet burned down completely, and so we placed that, too, on the concrete, away from the plastic sheeting.

The members settled into the chairs. Frs. Arlante and Novales sat beside me. "Now we know why the tombstone doesn’t have the date of birth," the two priests said. "It is the tombstone of an unborn child."

Fr. Arlante led the prayers on his rosary. After the first Joyful Mystery, I walked up to the tombstone, picked up the hammer and tentatively ran its head along the four corners of the concrete. I asked the man, "Guide me." He guided the hammerhead to the center of the tombstone.

I raised the hammer and brought it down hard into the center. Deep cracks immediately radiated from the center to the stone’s borders. In between the decades of the rosary we all took turns transforming the stone to rubble. Only Fr. Novales did not participate since he had sprained his hand moving furniture to make way for the redecorating of the seminary library.

Ismael gathered all the pieces in the white plastic sheet, and then folded this into a black plastic bag.

Before we departed from the seminary that evening, Chi took me aside and disclosed to me the message the man had given him.

"He said he knew my father," Chi said in a tearful voice. Most of the Questors knew that Chi’s father was kidnapped, tortured and killed by business rivals when Chi was only 13.
* * *
Fr. Arlante sent me an e-mail four days later:

"Dear Tony:"I’m sure you would be very interested to know what we did today.

As of last night, Fr. Novales and I had no immediate plans of disposing of the remains of the broken tombstone. Little did we know that we would accomplish that today.

"Fr. Novales and Carlitos were on their way to Divisoria to purchase curtain rods for the library when Carlitos mentioned that it would be a good idea to dispose of the remains of the broken tombstone in the sea, today being Mother’s Day.

"Fr. Buenaventura, Carlitos, Fr. Eduardo Pariña, the assistant rector, and I left the seminary at 2 p.m. and headed for the reclamation area by Manila Bay. We planned to visit the new church beside the SM complex being constructed there, pray and then search for the right place to scatter the shards. A wedding was in progress. It was consecration time when we entered the church. We knelt at a vacant pew right in front of the tabernacle. We said our prayers at communion time.

"At this time, Ismael saw the man and woman, also kneeling, at the other end of our pew. After we prayed we looked for a vigil candle stand where we could light candles but the church had no provision for that. Outside, we learned that no one was allowed to scatter any kind of debris in the reclamation area.

"We decided to go to Baclaran to light candles and then search for an appropriate place. We purchased six candles and lit them in front of an image of the Blessed Mother, asking her to bless Anthony Stephen and his parents, and entrusting all three to her maternal care. As we walked out of Baclaran Church, Ismael informed us that the man and woman were following us.

"We had brought two small crowns of plastic flowers with us and bought some sampaguita leis from a vendor. It was extremely difficult to get out of our parking space because the buses were mostly at a standstill. We asked the spirits to help us get out so we could proceed with our mission. Sure enough, we were able to get through – but I know that this would not surprise you.

"We finally found the right place, near Gloria Maris: a docking station for boats cruising Manila Bay. The four of us caught the next boat. Fr. Novales and I blessed the stones with holy water and offered silent prayers. In the meantime, Carlitos spotted the man and woman standing at the breakwater, waiting for us. As soon as the boat motored out into the open, Fr. Novales, Carlitos, and I began dropping the shards into the water, throwing sampaguita leis at intervals. Carlitos said that the two spirits were now on the boat, watching what we were doing. They were very close to each other. The man’s arm was around the woman’s shoulders.

"As we were dropping the smaller particles of the broken tombstone into the water the boat conductor came around and asked us what we were doing. We told him that we were just

‘throwing stones’ into the water. He suggested that we move to the very end of the boat so the dust would not bother the other passengers. By this time, however, there weren’t many other particles left to throw.

"Carlitos insisted that we shake the dust from the black plastic bag and make sure that everything was thrown into the water. So, the assistant rector and I went to the back of the boat and shook out the black plastic bag and the white plastic wrap that was around it, making sure that everything was disposed of. I then threw the two small crowns of plastic flowers into the sea.

"When we got back to our seats, Carlitos said that the woman caught one of the crowns of plastic flowers and held it close to her heart. She was smiling and crying at the same time. The man remained motionless but both seemed very pleased. They informed Carlitos that they would accompany us back to the dock.

"When we were nearing the shore, Carlitos said to me, ‘Turn to your left, she is right beside you, try to feel her. She is saying thank you, her hands are together and she is extending them to you. She is stepping on my feet.’ Try as I could, I felt nothing, but I acknowledged her thanks and murmured that I was very glad we could be of help and that I hoped that she would now find peace.

"When we got off the boat, Carlitos told us that he could see the two spirits rising into the sky. Then he told us that we had to dispose of absolutely everything: the black plastic bag, the white plastic wrap, even the basket we carried them in. I replied to him that, had he told us about that earlier, we could have thrown those into the sea. We now we had to find a place where we could dispose these. Carlitos and Fr. Novales recalled a place beside the parking lot across CCP where we could do this. And that was where we went.

"Carlitos and Fr. Novales crossed the parking lot while the assistant rector and I waited inside the van. Ten to 15 minutes later they returned. According to Carlitos, when they shook out the black plastic bag and the white plastic wrap once again, a shadow rushed out, as though in a hurry to go somewhere. Fr. Novales did not see it. Carlitos concluded that this was the spirit of Anthony Stephen, who now looked like a tall, thin adult, and who was hurrying to join his parents.

"We got back to the seminary at 9:45 p.m., physically depleted but with the sense of having completed an important mission.

"I should mention that Fr. Novales woke up in the middle of the previous night in the clausura. Although he was spent from overseeing the repainting of the library he found it difficult to go back to sleep. He decided to pray the rosary. It seems that his not joining us in breaking the tombstone was not taken kindly and that he had to make some other kind of contribution.

"Tony, I imagine this brings closure to the episode. We continue our prayers for the spirits. Again, I thank you for all the assistance that you and the Spirit Questors gave us in unraveling the mystifying circumstances of the spirits and the tombstone. Without your help, I wonder if we could ever have gotten to the bottom of this.

"God bless you and your group."
* * *
At the end of this Quest, Mike began having second thoughts about his liberal attitude toward abortion as an issue of personal choice.

Many questions remain unanswered regarding the woman. For instance, where she moved after the abortion, whether she eventually married, how she died and when. But, as I mentioned, our Quest was focused on the man, and as a general rule we converse with only one spirit at a time.

It was really never clarified why the unborn child’s tombstone was marked Oberlin, Louisiana. We can only speculate that its mother migrated there, and died there.

Carlitos Haguisan occasionally joins the Spirit Questors on special quests as a channel in training.











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