Gabriel Garcia Moreno--Regenerator of Ecuador - Mrs. Maxwell Scott

Work for Souls

Moreno's personal charity was astounding, and of the most humble and self-sacrificing nature. He lived in the simplest way and spent little on himself, although he now accepted his proper salary. People therefore concluded that he was saving money, for which, as he had no private fortune, no one blamed him: but when, after his death, the President's Agent gave a detailed account of his expenditure, it was discovered that he had given the whole of his official income to works of charity. Even the wife of his constant enemy, Urbina, had received a monthly pension from him, a fresh evidence of his spirit of heroic generosity and forgiveness.

We have already seen how Moreno's great faith showed itself in his far-reaching plans for the spiritual welfare of the country, and we must now consider some further features of his zeal. It has been said that if he had been a Priest he would have been a Francis Xavier; as Head of the State his work recalled the old prophecy of his youth, that he would be "a Bishop in the world." At this country place the peasants said of him: "He spared us neither punishments nor corrections, but he was a true Saint. He gave us big wages and great rewards. He would recite the Rosary with us, and the Catechism; explain the New Testament to us; make us go to Mass and prepare us all for Confession and Holy Communion. Peace and plenty reigned in our farms because the mere presence of this excellent Caballero banished all evil."

On one occasion the President found himself in the company of some Irish workmen whom he had sent for from the United States to establish a scientific saw-mill. After examining their work and sharing the repast given to them at his desire, he questioned the men about the religious practices of their country and asked them whether they could sing some Hymns to our Lady. The good Irishmen set to work to sing with fervor. "You love our Lady well, then, in your country?" asked the President. "We love her with all our hearts," was the reply. "Then, my children," returned Moreno, "Let us kneel down and say the Rosary together that you may persevere in the love and service of God."

When it was the case of helping a friend's soul, Moreno would show the most delicate and ingenious charity. At Quito there lived a gentleman for whose character and excellent qualities he had a great esteem and to whom he felt great gratitude, for he had often advanced the capital for the President's great enterprises. This friend went to Mass and was good to the poor, but had lost the habit of frequenting the Sacraments, and to Moreno's reproaches he only returned vague replies.

Garcia Moreno


It is the custom at Quito, at the close of May, for the faithful to offer their written resolutions to our Lady in the place of flowers. Towards the close of this month, therefore, Moreno once asked his friend if he had offered his bouquet. The latter understood his meaning and tried to evade it. "Wait," said Moreno, "I have myself offered our Lady a beautiful bouquet, and, as usual, it must be you who will bear the expense." "You know my purse is always open to you," replied the gentleman, thinking some money advance was required. "I may count on you, then." "Certainly." "Very well, then, I promised our Lady that you would go to Holy Communion on the last day of her month, so you see that I cannot offer my bouquet without your cooperation." The friend, much embarrassed, replied that such an important act required preparation: but, vanquished by his friend's concern for him, he retired into solitude for a few days, and on the last day of May he and the President received Holy Communion side by side.

One of the most interesting pages in Moreno's life is that which relates his care for the Indians who occupy the vast plains on the western slopes of the Cordilleras. In this territory, situated on the borders of Brazil, and surrounded by virgin forest, live some two hundred thousand Indians, nearly all nomads, most of them simple and pacific, but a few, like the tribe of Jivaros, cruel and warlike. In the eighteenth century they had been evangelized by the Jesuit Fathers and, under their care, had settled down in prosperous townships; but during the years of revolution the Jesuits were banished, and the tribes went back to their wandering life and to their superstitions. Since then the efforts made for their benefit had been unsuccessful, and Moreno determined to give back to these people the Religious who had done so much for them, and he made an arrangement with the Society to this effect. Presently, therefore, he had the joy of seeing the Fathers established at the four principal centers—Macas, Napo, Gualaquiza, and Zamorel, from whence they visited the wandering tribes.

In 1864, when the Vicar Apostolic, Padre Pizarro, and his fellow Religious were evangelizing the natives on the banks of the Napo, Maldano, who, as we know, had been sent into exile, with some of his companions made a sudden incursion into the neighborhood and attacked the Jesuit House, calling the Fathers the "accomplices of the Tyrant." The Missionaries were chained together and insulted in every way. The wretches determined to carry their victims off with them to Peru, and forced them to enter their canoe. The Indians, horrified at their conduct, lined the bank in tears, and one of them, to console the Religious, called out: "My Fathers, Jesus died on the Cross." As the boats moved away they threw themselves on their knees calling on the Fathers to bless them and uttering cries of despair at the departure of their benefactors. When Moreno returned to office in 1870 he re-established the Missions on a more solid basis; with far-seeing and enlightened policy, and regardless of the intolerance of the Radical party, he invested the Jesuit Vicar Apostolic with extensive civil powers.

"As it is impossible," he declares in the Government Decree relating to this matter, "to organize a Civil Government among savages, and that without some authority social life is impossible, the Jesuit Fathers will establish a Governor in every center of population, and will invest him with the right of maintaining order and administering justice. The Governors may impose slight punishments for ordinary faults, banish from the Missionary Territory incorrigible disturbers of the peace, and send homicides to Quito to be judged. In every center a school, built at the expense of Government, and in which Christian Doctrine, arithmetic, and music will be taught, will be obligatory for children under twelve years."

Government also prohibited sales on credit under pain of confiscation of the goods, and banishment from the territory; and promised aid and, if necessary, armed protection to the Missionaries. These last clauses, as it proved, were by no means unnecessary, as the simple Indians were often deceived and despoiled by speculators. The latter, now, vexed at being interfered with, calumniated the Religious to the Indians, who, conceiving that their interests were at stake, set fire to the Jesuit House. Happily, a body of soldiers sent by Government re-established order, sent the merchants across the mountains, and all the tribes submitted to authority with the exception of the Jivaros.

"The day is not far off," said Moreno in his address to Congress of 1871, when we shall have to chase this perfidious tribe from the country and scatter them on the frontiers. . . . We will then colonize these fertile lands, as well as others, where there is no population, by making an appeal to Catholic emigrants from Germany, who will come to us in great numbers if you will vote the necessary funds." After this stormy beginning the Jesuit missions once more prospered exceedingly. In two years that of the Napo counted twenty villages and 6,000 Christians. The work was so advanced that Moreno meant to petition the Holy See for a second Vicariate, and was about to open up these vast territories to commerce when his death brought ruin and desolation here as elsewhere; and in a short time the Jesuits were sent away and the villages broken up by the enmity of the merchants, who now returned to the country; and although a few Missionaries still remained scattered among the tribes, their efforts for the good of the people were rendered almost useless owing to the obstacles placed in their way by these traders.

Knowing that many of his own countrymen were no less in need of pastors, the President arranged for more priests to go to the mountainous regions of the country, and obtained from the Pope the creation of a new Diocese, which should embrace the distant provinces of Esmaraldas and Manabi, where twenty or thirty populous parishes were in spiritual destitution.

Finally, in order to help the many ignorant and lax Catholics in the country, he secured the co-operation of the Redemptionist Fathers, who went two and two among the people, with the most consoling results; often the peasants, on hearing of their approach, would abandon their huts and their work and travel for five, or even ten, leagues to assist at the mission. Where there was no church they would erect one of branches and leaves, and here for a fortnight they would attend the Instructions, say the Rosary, and sing Hymns. After going to Confession and Holy Communion, and consecrating themselves to our Blessed Lady, the poor people would say adieu with tears and lamentations, and implore the "Fathers of their souls" to remain always with them. In the towns the missionaries met with the same success.

In 1873 they preached a mission in the Cathedral of Quito to an immense audience presided over by Moreno. It was concluded by a beautiful and symbolic ceremony, no doubt of Spanish origin, called the Plantation of the Cross. The Cathedral was filled to overflowing: the President, in full uniform and surrounded by the military and civil authorities, occupying the place of honor. Before the procession began one of the Redemptionists ascended the pulpit and spoke of devotion to the Cross and of the veneration due to it, recalling the fact that the Emperor Heraclius had had the honor of bearing the True Cross, and "I hope," he added, turning to the men present, "that, despising human respect, you will all envy his privilege." As he finished the President left his place and, with the aid of his Ministers, placed the large Cross on his shoulders, and, laden with the precious burden, he walked through the streets of the capital at the head of his people.

This Retreat bore great fruit, and we may realize the results of this and his other efforts by the following letter written by Moreno at this time: "God blesses us," he says, "for the country progresses really. A moral improvement is manifest everywhere, thanks to the Jesuits, the Dominicans, Redemptionists, Observatines, and other Religious who assist our good priests, who are themselves full of zeal. The number of those who returned to the Sacraments during Lent is incalculable. In our youth we could count those who fulfilled their religious duties; today one counts those who neglect them. On the other hand, the material progress is not less admirable. One might really say that God bears us up with His hand, as a tender father supports his child when it first tries to walk."

One supreme consolation was reserved to Moreno during his second Presidency—that of publicly raising his voice in defense of the Holy See. This privilege, which, it is sad to think, was his alone, brought Ecuador and its President before the eyes of all Europe, and was a great consolation to Pius IX. Moreno had sorrowfully followed all the stages of the war against the Pope, and when the occupation of Rome was accomplished he addressed an energetic protest to the ministry of Victor Emmanuel. From this fine document we will quote some words:

After saying that Ecuador had waited for the great European Powers to lead the way in protesting against the unjust invasion of Rome, Moreno continues: "But our expectation was vain. The kings of the old Continent continue to keep silence, and Rome still suffers from the oppression of King Victor Emmanuel. It is for this reason, therefore, that the Government of Ecuador, in spite of its weakness and the immense distance which separates it from the Old World, fulfills its duty of protesting, as it does protest, before God and before men, in the name of outraged justice, in the name above all of the Catholic people of Ecuador, against the iniquitous invasion of Rome and the imprisonment of the Sovereign Pontiff, in spite of insidious promises, always repeated and always violated, and notwithstanding the absurd guarantees of independence by means of which it is intended to disguise the ignominious servitude of the Church."

Not content with sending this protest, the President forwarded copies of it to the heads of all the American Governments, urging them to join him in protesting against "the violent and unjust occupation of Rome." He had little hope of success, and unfortunately he alone in the New World also had the courage to affirm publicly his devotion to the Holy See in this moment of danger. All Ecuador, however, shared its President's sentiments; and when the question of succoring the Holy Father in his temporal losses was discussed, Congress voted a sum of ten thousand piastres as a national gift, "a feeble offering from our little Republic," said the members who took it to the Papal Delegate, "which we beg you to offer to the immortal Pius IX, from a people who venerate his virtues and admire his greatness."

When the Holy Father read the Protest sent by Moreno he exclaimed, "Ah, if he was a powerful king the Pope would have someone to rely on in this world," and he wrote to thank him cordially for his support. After receiving the President's message and the offering from the people of Ecuador, the Pope replied in the following letter, which is also of special value, as showing that Moreno's reforms had been known and approved by His Holiness.

"We hardly know if our thanksgivings should have for object the proofs of your singular devotion to us, or the favors with which Almighty God is pleased to reward you. In truth, without a very special divine intervention, it would be very difficult to understand how in so short a time you have re-established peace, paid off a great portion of the National Debt, doubled the revenues, suppressed vexatious taxes, restored education, created roads and hospitals. If We must above all thank Almighty God, the Giver of all good, it is right also to praise your prudence and your zeal, you who know how to keep going at the same time so many other objects of your zeal; the reforms of institutions, of the law, of the Magistracy, and of the Army, omitting nothing which can increase the public prosperity. But above all, we congratulate you on the piety with which you refer all your success to God and the Church, persuaded that without Christian morality, of which the Church alone teaches and maintains the precepts, there cannot be any true progress for the nations. It is with good reason that you have with all your strength stimulated Congress to the propagation of our Holy Religion, and turned all hearts to this Apostolic See, Centre of Unity, against which a terrible tempest rages, asking it very opportunely to assist our necessity. Continue to live in this holy, Christian liberty, to conform your works to your Faith, to respect the rights and the liberty of Holy Church, and God, who does not forget filial piety, will bestow on you, very dear son, blessings even more abundant than those with which He has enriched you up to now."

Moreno felt overwhelmed by this praise from the Holy Father, and wrote to him most humbly. "Very Holy Father," he says, "I cannot express to you the feelings of gratitude with which your Holiness's paternal and affectionate letter inspired me. The approbation which you deign to bestow on my efforts is for me the greatest reward which I could desire on this earth, but it is much above my merits. I confess with strict justice, that we owe all to God; not only the growing prosperity of our little State, but also the means which I employ for its development, and even the desire with which God has inspired me to work for His Glory.

"I therefore merit no reward; I have much more reason to fear that at the last day God may render me responsible for the good that, with the help of His mercy, I might have done and have not done. Deign then, your Holiness, to implore Him to forgive me and to save me in spite of all my faults. May God enlighten me, direct me in all things, and grant me the grace to die for the defense of the Faith and of Holy Church. In these sentiments, Holy Father, I beg a fresh Blessing for the Republic, for my family, and for myself. Your Blessing ever helps me to grow in confidence towards God, the source of all strength and of all valor."

Moreno never had the consolation of seeing Pius IX in this world, and how greatly he would have esteemed the privilege we may gather from a letter written to one of his friends in Rome. "I envy your happiness in kissing the feet of the Vicar of Christ and in conversing with him—him whom I love more than my father, as for him, for his defense, for his liberty, I would give even the life of my son." His own life, as we know, he would joyfully have sacrificed at any time in the Pope's service.