Gabriel Garcia Moreno "Victim for the Faith and Christian Charity", Pope Pius IX
Another light that is found in this tapestry of Our Lady of Good Success is one of a mysterious, mystical luminescence that is wrapped in prophecy. This light transcends time traveling through the centuries until this present age that we live in. This light is meant to illuminate are daily lives so that we have before us a shining example of true courage and honor in order that we too may rise to the occasion of defending the Faith. It is the illumination of another soul glowing with the supernatural light of sanctifying grace. It is the radiance of a shimmering crown of martyrdom.
On January 16, 1599 Our Lady of Good Success appeared to Mother Mariana saying these words,
"In the 19th Century, there will be a truly Catholic President, a man of character whom God, Our Lord, will give the palm of martyrdom on the square adjoining this convent. He will consecrate this Republic to the Sacred Heart of my Most Holy Son, and this consecration will sustain the Catholic Religion in the years that will follow, which will be ill-fated ones for the Church."
Considering the timeliness of this resurgence of the devotion to Our Lady of Good Success, it would be most proper and fitting to look to this man that Our Lady of Good Success speaks of as a model of true leadership and manhood. Our generation can learn much by reflecting on a stalwart man who was once quoted as saying, "one must sacrifice one’s life if God wishes it, for the honor of His Church.1 It can be said, in observing this life, that he truly lived and died by this motto.
Over 250 years after this apparition, such a man—a giant among men-- appeared on the political stage of Ecuador. This great man was named Gabriel Garcia Moreno. He was born in Guayaquail, Ecuador on Christmas Eve 1821. He died on August 6, 1876, Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. In those 50 years on this earth, he spent his time in pursuit of fine Catholic ideals.
Garcia Moreno was the youngest of eight children. His father died while he was still young leaving the family impoverished, unable to afford an education for him. However a friend of the family, Father Betancourt, took it upon himself to educate this young man. He excelled in his academics so much so that he left home to go to the university in Quito. He was an accomplished student of philosophy, mathematics, natural sciences and grammar. He studied English and French.
"He was determined to learn everything and from his strength of will….he succeeded in becoming a great orator, a profound historian, an excellent linguist, a poet and an incomparable statesman" 2
For a time, Garcia Moreno studied for the priesthood receiving minor orders determined to use his intelligence for the good of the Church. He was told that he did not have a vocation so he became a lawyer which eventually paved the way for his political career.
Garcia Moreno grew up in a time of anarchy, civil unrest and revolution. It was a time of great upheaval for the enemies of the Church had gained a stronghold in society, politics and even in the Church in Ecuador. Ecuador was in a state of turmoil, various presidents had come into to power that were in league with the enemies of the Church. Much injustice was witnessed by Garcia Moreno such as injustice to the Church, the clergy, the poor. He stood up in defense of the defenseless ones. On all levels of his life, he looked at evil straight in the eye and fought it head on.
To "unmask the corruption" of the government of that time he wrote and published different periodicals. In one such paper called "El Diablo", he explained his position as such,
"I am simply a friend of an unfortunate people who have no defenders against the devils who oppress them and I will fight to the death against those who martyrize or betray them." 3
To those who victimized the Church he wrote a pamphlet called, "Defenso de los Jesuitas" stating:
"You pretend to exterminate the Jesuits out of love and for the greater glory of the Catholic Church. Falsehood and lies: you only strike at the Jesuits to attack Catholicism. ….Ecuador will hold fast to the faith of our fathers. To defend it the clergy and people will not be deceived or yield to apathy or indifference. We will march to the fight under the guidance of Divine Providence….." 4
As a result of these and other profoundly heroic actions, the evil dictatorial forces had him arrested and banished to Peru. The people of Quito were indignant against the harsh treatment of their hero, Garcia Moreno. In his absence, he was elected as Senator of Guayaquail. He returned to take his seat in government however he was arrested again "by a flagrant breach of the Constitution" and re-banished.
It is during this period of banishment that he took up residence in Paris, France. He returned to his studies there. He worked 16 hours a day immersed in learning. His secret desire was to learn all he could for the greater good of his beloved motherland, Ecuador. This period yielded much good fruit for he was able to ascertain the important influence religion had on a society. He studied political life in Paris and the influence of good and evil upon it. It seems as though, seeing first hand the damage done by the French Revolution and Age of Enlightment , Moreno pondered over what needed to be done in Ecuador to stay the hand that desired to crush the Faith that had flourished there. Could it be this experience that drove him to consecrate his beloved country of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart as the King of France had been once ordered to do centuries before but refused?
At this time in his life he discovered he had become rather tepid in his Catholic Faith (though by today’s standards he would not be considered so). Of course he was a practicing loyal Catholic. He was one of the few public defenders of the Faith. However he felt he had been lax in his sacramental life. His realization of this fact and "conversion" of sorts came about during a conversation he was having amongst his friends and colleagues as he defended the practice of receiving Extreme Unction. One of his debaters must have known him quite well for in the argument that ensued he struck a raw nerve with Garcia Moreno when he asked him when was the last time he himself had gone to confession. Moreno conceded that his friend had in fact won this argument for the day. However filled with remorse and recognizing his personal lack of frequency towards reception of the sacraments, he quickly departed from his friends. That very day he found a church; he meditated on his lack of piety and went to confession renewing his Catholic fervor. He then resumed his practice of daily Mass and rosary until his death.
Returning to Ecuador he was given most every honor and title the people could imagine to bestow upon him. He was their hero. He was to take up office there as a Senator. Once again a battle arose.
It is said that his military career was far from brilliant but even that period of his life had a bright spot for finally after years of fighting these armies of radicals, his victory over the oppressors of Ecuador happened on September 24, 1860, the feast day of Our Lady of Ransom. On that day he decreed that, "to thank the Mother of the Divine Liberator, as well as to merit her assistance in the future, the army of the Republic should be placed in future under the special protection of Our Lady of Ransom, and that every year on this great anniversary the Government should officially assist at the services of the Church." 5 (also known as LaVirgen de la Merced which was crowned Ecuador’s National Virgin by Moreno)
After this victory Garcia Moreno was installed as President of Ecuador interestingly on January 16, 1861 anniversary of our dear Conceptionist sister, Mother Mariana’s death. Moreno drew up and established a new Catholic Constitution to end the corruption that had swept the country. This new Constitution based on Christian principles was what Garcia Moreno believed was the only way to "moralize the country by the energetic repression of crime by the solid education of the young, to protect religion and bring about the reforms which neither the Government nor the laws alone can obtain." 6
It would take many pages to list all he accomplished with this Constitution in place but suffice it to say that during the time of his Presidency which was actually two inconsecutive terms (1861-65; 1869-75) through his foresight and knowledge, the society and culture of Ecuador improved and flourished under this new Constitution and this truly Catholic President. His personal example of charity towards all classes and races was exemplary. He prayed the Rosary with his workers. He ate with the sick to make certain they had proper nourishment in the hospitals he had founded. He sought out bandits in the mountains, as the Good Shepard looking for his lost sheep, in order to give them a chance at repentance and a start to a good Christian life. He spent all of his Presidential salary in acts of good works for the people of Ecuador and the Church. Garcia Moreno believed that the conversion and success of Ecuador as a nation lay in the sound education of youth. As a result, good Catholic elementary schools were founded for not just the upper classes but for the indigenous people and women of all classes. Schools for learning trades were put into place. Thousands of children were educated in these programs. To undertake this task, Moreno appealed to France for religious to come to Ecuador to teach. Not only the Jesuits but the Sisters of Charity, the Christian Brothers and the Nuns of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary answered his call. Some of these same religious groups were asked to serve in the hospitals he established. Prisons were improved with the installation of good Catholic honest men to run these facilities and spiritually rehabilitate the unfortunate ones condemned to a life of imprisonment.
On the level of the practical, Garcia Moreno began projects to improve transportation by cutting a system of roads throughout Ecuador and laying out a design by which a railway would interconnect Quito to the coastal city of Guayaquail. His plans were a success despite the fact that it took many years to accomplish.
However there were two most treasured and important accomplishments that made Garcia Moreno extremely proud. One was the Concordant with Rome which demonstrated his country’s allegiance and undying loyalty to the Roman Pontiff. This was a courageous act for a small nation such as Ecuador. At this time Pope Pius IX was a prisoner in the Vatican since the Papal States had been overrun by a tyrant. As the rest of the world watched silently, Garcia Moreno pledged tithes from the Ecuadorian government to assist the Pope in his financial difficulty - An extreme example of Christian Charity.
The second accomplishment was the Public Consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This public consecration was suggested by a priest friend of his Fr. Manuel Proano. Garcia Moreno wrote in a letter to this priest that he would agree to do this. Interestingly enough he hesitates on this public act of consecration as he foresees that this act of consecration will be the death of him. He gains courage however and he writes that if this is what God is asking of him that he would gladly sacrifice his life as Our Lord did for the good of his beloved Ecuador.
So it was on March 23, 1873, with as much pomp and circumstance President Moreno and the Church in Ecuador could muster, the solemn ceremony was held at the Cathedral. The Archbishop recited the consecration prayer as the people repeated it phrase by phrase. Then Garcia Moreno, as the Republic’s representative, recited this prayer for of all of the people of Ecuador who could not be present at this occasion.
Consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred HeartCHRIST THE KING IN FRAME
Written by Father Manuel Proano
Lord, this is Thy beloved Country.
Always, my Jesus, we will recognize Thee as our God.
May we never turn our eyes from this star of Love and Mercy That glows in the midst of Thy breast
Which is the sanctuary of Thy Divinity and the tabernacle of Thy Heart.
Watch over us, My God, for powerful people and nations
Pierce Thy sweet merciful breast with the sharpest of thorns.
Our enemies insult our Faith; they ridicule us for the hope we have Placed in Thee.
Nevertheless, this is thy beloved Country, thy Leader, thy Lawmakers, thy Clergy,
Console thy priests; wipe away the tears of the Church;
Confound the impious and apostates of this world,
That they become lost in Thy Ocean of Love and Charity
So they may discover Thy gentle Heart.
Because you are our God, may Thy Heart be the beacon of light of our Faith,
A safe anchor of our hope, the emblem of our flag,
The impenetrable shield of our weakness, the dawn of our serene peace,
The intimate law of our holy agreement, the cloud that illuminates our horizons,
The inspiration of our wealth that results in prosperity and abundance,
So that we may raise churches and altars where Thy holy and magnificent Glory,
Will shine, with infinite and peaceful splendor.
And because we have consecrated and abandoned ourselves
Without reserve to Thy Divine Heart,
Multiply without end the years of our religious peace;
Banish impiety, corruption, misfortune and misery to the borders of our Mother country.
May thy [Catholic] Faith dictate our laws; May Thy justice govern our courts;
Maintain and direct our leaders with Thy mercy and strength;
Perfect our Priests with Thy wisdom, sanctity and fervor;
Convert all of the children of Ecuador with Thy Grace;
Crown them with Thy Glory in Eternity:
So that the whole world, when contemplating,
With holy envy, our true happiness and good fortune,
People and nations, as well, will take refuge and sleep soundly
In the calm of Peace in Thy loving Heart, which Thou dost offer to the world,
-That pure Fountain and perfect Symbol of Love and Charity. Amen" 7
It is said that after the blessing of the Archbishop, the trumpets blared and the rifles roared, the church bells rang out it unison throughout the land, overhead across the mountains and the plains the eagles soared. This was truly a glorious day for Ecuador. A triumph for God and the Church for this was the first time in History that a Republic had been consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – a step toward the true reign of Christ the King in the world.
The enemies of the Church were certainly the enemies of Garcia Moreno. For years, these cruel conspirators and friends of the Devil plotted the demise of Ecuador’s finest President. This act of consecration had them seeing red. From their secret meeting places all around the world, the order was given that Garcia Moreno must be annihilated. Many times Garcia Moreno was warned by friends and foes alike. It did not matter to him. He accepted his fate as the will of God.
On writing to Pope Pius IX of his reelection in July of 1875, he informed the Pope that he was well aware that the enemies of the Church were endeavoring in secret to murder him.
"…I have more than ever need of divine assistance, so as to live and die for the defense of our holy Religion and of this dear Republic, which God calls me again to govern. What greater happiness could befall me, Very Holy Father, than to see myself hated and calumniated for love of our Divine Redeemer? But what greater privilege still, if your blessing were to obtain for me the grace of shedding my blood for Him, who, being God, desired to shed His on the Cross for us." 8
Then on August 6, 1875, the inevitable happened. Garcia Moreno went to Mass as he always did. It was a First Friday so he spent some extra time before Our Lord in the Blessed Tabernacle. Moreno who strove to imitate Our Lord in so many ways in his life was to imitate him in death also. For those who plotted his death were those who knew him well – his friends - some whom had been "recipients of favors". These "Judases" grew impatient outside the Cathedral. Finally around 2pm Moreno left the Church. Almost immediately he was attacked by these murderers. He was shot six times and struck fourteen times with a machete – one hand had been completely cut off with the other arm badly severed and one fatal blow to the brain. It is said that he had 7-8 mortal wounds. These evil conspirators accomplish their wicked design shouting "Die, destroyer of Liberty!" Garcia Moreno replied "God does not die!" These were his last words. He was rushed into the Cathedral where he was given Extreme Unction. The priest asked him if he forgave his killers. Despite the fact he could no longer speak, he indicated with his eyes that he had already done so. There at the foot of Our Lady of Sorrows he expired.
A look at what he carried with him on his person, that day (and every day) gives a rather keen insight into this soul of such a man. On his breast was found a relic of the True Cross, the Scapular of the Passion, and that of the Sacred Heart and round his neck he wore his Rosary. In his pocket was found a little memorandum in pencil, written that very day.
‘My Savior Jesus Christ, give me greater love for Thee, and profound humility, and teach me what I should do this day for Thy greater glory and services’. 9
Also found in one of his pockets was a copy of "The Imitation of Christ" which was his constant companion. Inside this book, on one of the blank sheets, Garcia Moreno had written his own personal rule that he read and followed every day.
It reads as follows:
"Every morning when saying my prayers I will ask specially for humility. Every day I will hear Mass, say the Rosary and will read, besides a chapter of the Imitation, this Rule and the instructions which are added to it. I will endeavor to keep myself as much as possible in the presence of God, especially during conversation that I may not exceed in words. I will often offer my heart to God, principally before beginning any actions. Every hour I will say to myself: ‘I am worse that a demon and hell ought to be my dwelling place.’ In temptations I will add: ‘What should I think of all this in my last agony?’ In my room never to pray sitting when I can do so on my knees or standing. Practice daily little acts of humility, as kissing the ground; to rejoice when I or my actions, are censured. Never to speak of myself except to avow my faults or defects. To make efforts, by thinking of Jesus and Mary, to restrain my impatience and go against my natural inclinations; to be kind to all, even with the importunate, and never to speak ill of my enemies. Every morning, before beginning my work, I will write down what I have to do, being very careful to distribute my time well, to give myself only to useful and necessary business, and to continue it with zeal and perseverance. I will scrupulously observe the law of justice and truth, and have no intentions in all my actions save the greater glory of God… I will go to confession every week… I will never pass more than an hour in any amusement, and in general never before eight o’clock in the evening." 10
The President lay in state for three days. All of Quito came to see him weeping and lamenting, "We have lost our father. He has shed his blood for us!"
It would be good to remember what Ecuador thought of him on that day of his funeral. These very emotion filled words cut to the very heart of the people for they knew what they were to suffer in their great loss.
Father Vincent Cuenta addressed this "dead hero" in this way:
"Your eyes do not see our tears; your ears cannot hear the lamentations of your people. Your noble heart no longer beats in your breast; but your soul understands us. Ah, from that happy region to which your heroic virtue has brought you, look down in pity on your children. Do not abandon your country to anarchy and ruin. Ask God to raise up a man worthy to succeed you, one who will carry on your great work, and will know how to say with you 'Aveniat regnum tuum' ".11
This great man dearly desired the virtue of humility more than any other virtue. Throughout his life he implored Heaven to grant him this request. He was a genius…a man of progress…of scientific learning. Did this Hercules of Faith and Knowledge achieve this end? Proof of this triumph in virtue follows. Truly there was no better testimony to his sincere humility.
(This is a short excerpt of the speech of Garcia Moreno that was found on his corpse stained with his own blood. It was read to Congress shortly after his funeral. It was what today is called "The State of the Union Address" in the USA)
After describing the state of the Republic and the progress that had been made….he stated:
"If I have committed faults I beg your pardon a thousand and a thousand times, and this forgiveness I beg of all my countrymen with very sincere tears, begging them to believe that my desire has ever been for their good.. If on the contrary, you think I have succeeded in anything, attribute it in the first instance to Almighty God, and to the Immaculate Dispensatrice of the treasure of His Mercy, and then to yourselves, to the people, the army and to all those who in the various branches of government have helped me with so much intelligence and fidelity to fulfill my difficult duties." 12
As the saying goes, "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them." 13
Let us learn from this lesson of history. We are not living in such different times as Garcia Moreno. We are not experiencing such different problems as he and Ecuador faced over one hundred years before…. His enemies are our enemies. If we do not take action we will be doomed.
Let us turn to our dear Catholic friend in heaven and have recourse to him in all of our trials. It is not so difficult to imagine that just as the devotion to Our Lady of Good Success is witnessing a revival, so too is this heroic life of Gabriel Garcia Moreno meant to be brought to light to guide us in these troubled times now and in the future….
Finally, let us join in prayer with one voice to Our Lady of Lourdes in honor of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception that she may aid in the canonization of this model Catholic man "so that powerful men arise in works and words for the cause of the same Faith and of our beloved country."
Gabriel Garcia Moreno Regenerator of Ecuador by Hon. Mrs. Maxwell Scott pg 61.
Ibid pg 8
Ibid pg 14
Ibid pg 16
Ibid pg 40
Ibid pg 43
Biografia de Gabriel Garcia Moreno by Alfredo Saenz S. J. pg 205 - 207
Gabriel Garcia Moreno Regenerator of Ecuador by Hon. Mrs. Maxwell Scott pg 156 -157
Ibid pg 163
Ibid pg 138
Ibid pg 164
Ibid pg 166 -167