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June-July 2008

After guiding his country through a major natural disaster and saving it from civil war without a shot being fired, Gabriel Garcia Moreno was entreated to stay on as national leader to safeguard the new Catholic constitution and protect the nation from Masonic revolutionaries. Concluding our summary history of:

The Greatest Catholic President



Moreno resigned his post of Acting President in May of 1869, but when the electoral convention met in July they unanimously (less one dissenter) chose him as president for the coming term - which had been changed from four to six years under the new constitution. Moreno persisted in refusing the honour, while the deputies continued to insist that he was indispensable for the future of Ecuador. Finally they officially summoned him to be sworn in, and the reluctant hero had no other recourse but to obey.

Second Term: 1869-1875

He took the formal oath of office at the Cathedral in Quito, solemnly promising to fulfill his duties as president by observing the constitution and laws, and to profess and preserve the Catholic religion. Then, in reply to the dignitary who delivered the congratulatory speech, Moreno underscored the seriousness of his commitment to the oath of office: "Happy shall I be if I have to seal it with my blood, in defense of religion and my country."

The new constitution, whose preparation he directed and inspired, was met with bitter rage by his enemies. They labelled it the "Black Charter," and the "Charter of Slavery to the Vatican." This extreme reaction was likely sparked by a clause stating that only Roman Catholics would be eligible to hold public office or become members of the Chamber of Deputies.

In drafting the constitution, he was guided by the Syllabus of Errors, issued by Pope Pius IX only a few years before, in 1864. Moreno is reputed to have said that if the Syllabus remained a dead letter, society would be at an end. His biographer, Berthe, wrote that the new constitution of Ecuador "... was in exact conformity to the principles of the Syllabus."

For instance, nothing could be further removed from Moreno's vision of Church-State relations than the following propositions, all condemned by the Syllabus: "The teaching of the Catholic Church is hostile to the well-being and interests of Society" (no. 40); "The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church" (no. 55); and "Moral laws do not stand in need of the divine sanction, and it is not at all necessary that human laws should be made conformable to the laws of nature and receive their power of binding from God (no. 56).

Moreno understood how important it was for the Church to formally denounce the errors condemned by the Syllabus, a Papal document that can never be superseded.

Backed by the new constitution, Moreno was ready to begin fulfilling in earnest his plans for a new Ecuador - but the enemy made one last futile attempt to stop him. Realizing that the country had now grown intolerant of the endless attempts at coups and revolutions, the leftists turned to their only alternative - assassination! The plot might have succeeded but for the remorse of one of the ringleaders, who revealed the details of the nefarious scheme to Moreno himself. The vile attempt was thwarted with the arrest of the would-be murderers.

A planned takeover of a major city, Cuenca, that was to occur in conjunction with the assassination, also met with failure. Unfortunately, the rebels were able to severely wound the Governor of the area, who barely escaped death. At their trial, the Cuenca insurgents were met with harsh sentences of either death or imprisonment with hard labour. When certain influential women citizens tried to intercede for the criminals, Moreno angrily replied that they should rather be concerned with the life-threatening condition in which the wounded governor lay. He pungently added, "When people remain deaf to the cries of the victims, they lose the right to plead for clemency in favour of assassins."

Morality, security, justice

By suppressing this last gasp of the revolution, the Moreno administration remained relatively unimpeded as it embarked on an amazing six years of effort, in which the entire nation of Ecuador was completely transformed. If a man is to be judged by his works, the accomplishments that Moreno attained during his second term as president were a resounding testimony to his greatness.

His overriding concern was to ensure that morality, security, and justice prevailed everywhere. To this end he undertook the reform of the clergy, the military, and the legal system.

The Apostolic Delegate that had been appointed in accordance with the Concordat had proved to lack the firmness necessary to correct the prevailing waywardness and laxity of the clergy. As a consequence, Moreno asked for and received a new delegate from Pope Pius IX. Ecclesiastical tribunals were resumed under stricter procedures, and provincial councils were held. The president also invited a great number of religious from overseas to populate the monasteries of Ecuador, in order to impose greater discipline on those establishments. Many of the radicals living in neighbouring countries issued broadsides protesting such religious "slavery." To these Moreno eloquently responded, "As to the impious pamphlets put out by the Freemasons of Columbia, I take as little account of them as of the pestilential miasmas of their distant marshes."

On the national security front, he felt that only a small standing army was needed. However, he wanted a large body of fully trained reserves to be available in times of danger. To this end, he created a National Guard which periodically held military exercises for most of the able bodied men during the year. He also reformed a corrupt system of recruiting, eliminating the illegal "ransom" payments made to dishonest officials in order to avoid conscription. He did this by clearly defining the criteria for exemption from military service.

Creation of a cadet school for the training of career army officers was next.

The most promising and intelligent of these men were sent to Europe, especially Prussia, to study the latest military strategies. This was not empty posturing, since Moreno spared no expense in procuring the newest and most efficient weaponry for his troops. In this way, the nation had at its disposal a small but very powerful army. This disciplined and well-equipped force was capable of standing up to any threat from tiny Ecuador's much larger neighbours.

Nor did he overlook the spiritual formation of his soldiers. Chaplains were appointed to every regiment, providing the sacraments, religious instruction, and even holding annual retreats. Instead of spending their free time in debauchery, many of the men began to lead pious lives, and were inspired to improve themselves by attending night school.

On the legal front, he undertook a complete revision of the penal code, targeting "drunkards, debauchees, and disturbers of the public peace." Homes were opened for the treatment and rehabilitation of alcoholics. Those who persisted in public intoxication or involvement in prostitution were either imprisoned or exiled. The new constitution empowered the government to weed out judges and magistrates who were dishonest or incompetent, allowing their replacement by men of upright conduct. Penalties were inflicted on unscrupulous lawyers who took advantage of the trust of their clients.

Education and formation

As significant as these accomplishments were, they are eclipsed by the magnificent advances instituted by the president in all areas of education. In order to implement his 1871 Education Bill, which mandated compulsory education of boys from the age of eight, he sought help from the teaching congregations of Europe. Soon the Christian Brothers, Sacred Heart Nuns, Sisters of Charity, and other orders arrived and were installed as teachers in the major cities.

To provide qualified instructors for the outlying regions, he created a Normal College under the direction of the Christian Brothers to train lay teachers. As a result, enrolment in the primary schools soared within a few years from 8,000 to 32,000 boys, in over 500 such schools. Unfortunately, travelling to school was considered too dangerous or inappropriate for girls. Undaunted, Moreno asked the Sacred Heart Nuns to open schools in their convents for female boarders and day students, for which parents were very grateful.

Nor were the native Indians neglected, with special schools established for their education. Schools were also founded for the children of soldiers and prisoners. In addition to all this, a vocational institute for boys was opened in order to teach useful trades such as carpentry and mechanics. It was staffed by Brothers of religious from New York. A similar program was inaugurated for girls from poor families, run by the Sisters of Providence from Belgium. In all cases, the teachers, whether lay Christians or religious, instilled piety as well as formal knowledge in their charges.

In order to correct the deficiencies in secondary and higher education, Moreno sought the assistance of the Jesuits. Colleges and academies were opened in Quito and throughout the country. Moreno also re-opened the University of Quito, which he had previously suppressed because it had become a hotbed of vice and "detestable doctrine." Thoroughly Catholic lay professors were assigned there, and a large number of German Jesuit Fathers were also recruited.

For the formation of engineers and technicians, a Polytechnic School was organized, adjacent to the university. The University of Quito also gave birth to a Faculty of Medicine, with professors of surgery and anatomy obtained from Montpellier, France. Overlooking nothing, Moreno commissioned a 300-bed hospital to be operated in conjunction with the medical school. All of these institutions needed equipment, and Moreno insisted on sending for the latest and best instruments and machines from overseas.

This was not all. He founded a School of Fine Arts, importing professors from Italy to teach sculpture and painting, and had the best students sent to Rome to complete their studies. He also inaugurated the Conservatory of Music, whose students provided free weekly concerts of both sacred and classical compositions.

The crowning achievement of his education reform was the building of the first South American astronomical observatory. He sought to take advantage of the clear mountain air and equatorial location of Quito. The telescope, at the time one of the three most advanced in the world, was crafted in Germany. The observatory is still functioning today with much of its original apparatus, and remains a popular tourist attraction.

Thus, in Moreno's second term as president, from 1869 to 1875, the culture of Ecuador was transformed from a state of mediocrity and neglect to one of excellence in all areas - education, science, medicine, technology, music and the arts. Everything was accomplished in accordance with Christian ethics, by employing only the best Catholic-educated instructors and professors. All in all, it was a magnificent testimony to the fecundity of Catholic civilization.

Social program

Moreno's program for the flowering of Ecuador was not lacking in social works of charity. He saw to the opening of two orphanages in Quito, staffed by religious sisters, with similar institutions soon budding in the other major cities. His concern for the moral standards of the nation led him to establish a "house of refuge for girls who had been led astray," also placed in the care of women religious.

He enjoyed striking success in the reform of the prison system, which was placed under the wise direction of a priest and an administrator, who transformed the jailhouses into veritable workshops and schools. Moreno himself made an annual examination not only of the system, but also of the progress of the prisoners in the skills they were learning.

He also succeeded in bringing an end to the plague of well-organized bandits that prowled the countryside. He realized that the most efficient way to end the brigandage was to strike at its head. Thus, he ordered an all out search for their leader, who was soon brought before him in shackles. Instead of being severely punished, the malefactor was surprised by an offer of clemency. The president would give the outlaw a chance to amend his life, if he would consent to daily tutelage under a priest. The grateful man's turnaround was so complete that Moreno soon appointed him chief of police, with the specific mandate to convince his former colleagues in crime to voluntarily turn themselves over to the authorities. This they in fact did, trusting in Moreno's reputation for preferring rehabilitation over retribution. In this way he cleverly eliminated the scourge of the bandits. In fact, his policies for the treatment of criminals and prisoners were so effective that a new prison which he had ordered to be built in the capital ended up practically vacant. Indeed, by his last year in office in 1875, there were only fifty people still incarcerated in the prison system!

In the arena of public health, he began daily visits to the hospitals to evaluate their procedures and meet with patients. Finding that the lay nurses were undependable, he had all of the hospitals replace them with Sisters of Charity. He paid a special visit to the leper hospital, and unexpectedly sat down with them to share their meal. Finding that their diet was inadequate, he ordered the necessary changes to be made.

The president was charitable not only with the financial resources of the State, but also with his personal income. Initially, he only accepted half of his salary, since the nation itself was so poor, and he donated the other half to various worthwhile causes. As the nation's finances improved, he accepted his full salary, but secretly used the whole of his official income to help those in need, especially the spouses and families of the revolutionaries that he had ordered into exile. Only after his death, when an official accounting of his papers was made, was the vast scope of his generosity revealed.

Garcia Moreno's missionary outreach to the 200,000 native South American Indians residing in the Amazon basin began during his first term. At that time there remained only the ruins of the old Jesuit missions that had been built in the Oriente during Spanish colonial rule, one hundred years before. But the Jesuits had been driven out and kept out by the radicals during the periods of anti-clerical rule. In 1862, Moreno recalled them, and their missions were re-established. Near the start of his second term, in 1870, he placed these missions on a surer footing by creating schools that taught religion, the Spanish language, and basic subjects. He empowered local authorities to maintain order and protect the missionaries.

Although the rest of Ecuador was almost completely Catholic, there were serious priest shortages in many remote areas of the mountains and along the coast. He commissioned two groups of French Redemptorists to give retreats and missions, primarily in the isolated hamlets. These sessions usually lasted two weeks, with the enthusiastic faithful often travelling great distances to attend. The extremely popular events concluded with all those in attendance consecrating themselves and their families to the protection of the Blessed Virgin. The Redemptorists also made visits to the larger towns and cities. During their retreat in Quito, Moreno himself led a public procession, holding aloft the Crucifix, in the company of his deputies and ministers. Afterwards, he wrote to a friend, "God has blessed us; and the country is visibly improving ... One would really imagine that God is bearing us up with His hand, like a tender father with his child when he tries to walk the first few steps."

Consecration of the nation to the Sacred Heart

The Kings of France had ignored Our Lord's request, revealed in 1689 to St. Margaret Mary, to have their nation formally consecrated to His Sacred Heart. A desperate King Louis XVI, prior to his beheading by the Revolution in 1792, apparently privately consecrated the nation while he was in prison. Our Lord was to wait until 1873, when humble Ecuador became the first country to be publicly consecrated to His Sacred Heart, by both the secular government and the Church. The accomplishment of this two-fold consecration is attributable to Gabriel Garcia Moreno, and this act alone renders him worthy to stand among the greatest Catholic statesmen.

Jesuit Father Manuel Proano had earlier written to the President, suggesting the idea of the Consecration. Moreno's initial reply was that he did not feel that Ecuador was a worthy offering to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He was not yet satisfied with the moral progress of the citizens. Characterizing the Heart of Jesus as the Throne of Wisdom, he wrote back to Fr. Proano questioning whether Ecuadorians were truly submissive to the Divine Teachings. Do justice and harmony reign in the nation? Is there true religious fervour? Has the domestic hearth been sanctified? He informed Fr. Proano that when the people had been purified by the sending out of more "saintly missionaries, tireless apostles," he would then raise a church to the Sacred Heart.

Fr. Proano replied in turn that the Consecration would be an act of reparation for the conflicts and failings of the nation. Wisely, Moreno then decided to consult with the Church hierarchy and with citizens who were fervent Catholics. The concept was favourably received and Moreno gave it his support. Subsequently, the bishops attending the Third Quito Provincial Council performed the Consecration in the name of the Church on August 31, 1873. In the fall the Legislature voted in favour (with only one dissenter), decreeing an annual civic holiday to be celebrated with all solemnity. Then, on October 18 Moreno ratified, in the name of the State, the decree declaring the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus as the Patron and Protector of Ecuador.

On October 18 of the next year, the first anniversary of the Consecration was celebrated in every church of the nation. Garcia Moreno attended the ceremonies in the Cathedral of Quito, with the leading government and military officials in attendance. The Archbishop renewed the Consecration on behalf of the Church, and Moreno followed by proclaiming it on behalf of the State.

Moreno was never to witness another anniversary of the Consecration. His enemies had become enraged by this act of Christian piety. He was warned that the lodges in Germany had given orders to those in America to utterly overthrow the government of Ecuador. The Grand Council of the Order had condemned him to death. In order to manipulate public opinion, journals in Europe and America began an organized campaign of denunciation of the President.

Unique papal defender

Almost as noteworthy as the Consecration was Ecuador's distinction of being the only nation in the world to officially protest Garibaldi's occupation of Rome and seizure of the Papal territories, in order to create a unified Italy. In September of 1870, Pope Pius IX became "the prisoner of the Vatican," after the Papal city fell to the revolutionaries. Garcia Moreno addressed an official protest to the government of King Victor Emmanuel on behalf of Ecuador. He accused Italy of a "hateful and sacrilegious assault" in depriving the Holy Father of his temporal domains and incomes, thereby impeding the liberty of the Church to fulfil its Divine Mission.

Disappointed that the countries of the Old World made no protest against the injustice, Moreno appealed to the governments of the American continent to stand with Ecuador, but none dared follow suit. Thus small, insignificant Ecuador stood alone in her public indictment of the theft of the Papal States and properties. Although their governments were cowardly, the people of Europe stood in amazement and grateful admiration at Ecuador's defense of the Church. Pope Pius is said to have exclaimed, "Ah, if he was a powerful king the Pope would have someone to rely on in this world!" In thanksgiving, the Holy Father heaped congratulations and honour upon Moreno, making him a Knight of the First Class of the Order of Pius IX.

But the President was not content with merely verbally supporting the Pope. He proposed that Congress contribute some part of its own meager resources to financially support the Vatican, now deprived of a large part of its revenues. In 1873, the enthusiastic government officials unanimously voted to present the Holy Father with a national gift of 10,000 piastres - a relatively large sum, equivalent to over six million 2006 U.S. dollars.

During these events, an exchange of letters took place between the Pope and the President. In praising the accomplishments of Moreno, the Holy Father went so far as to attribute his exceptional success to "a very special Divine intervention." Moreno wrote back that Ecuador truly owed everything to God, refusing to attribute any merit to himself. He revealed the strength of his Catholic Faith by adding, "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." Shortly after his reelection to another six-year term in May of 1875, God saw fit to grant this grace.


His 1875 electoral victory was essentially unanimous, since the opposition candidate withdrew, realizing it would be futile to run against Moreno. The electors, 23,000 in number, had no hesitation in voting for the man they hailed as the "saviour of the country". By contrast, the revolution, faced with the prospect of six more years of Catholic rule, determined that this was the moment to execute the decree for his assassination.

That summer the conspirators seemed everywhere. Amid a flood of warnings, his supporters beseeched the president to take immediate measures to protect himself. But Moreno refused to augment his guard or curtail his activities, choosing to commit his destiny to the Most High. He had become convinced that there was little that could be done to avoid the web of evil closing in on him. His reaction to the threats was to fortify himself with prayer and trust in God, steeling himself to accept what he saw as his inevitable martyrdom.

In July of 1875, he wrote his last letter to Pope Pius IX, informing him of his reelection and asking the Holy Father's apostolic blessing for the strength and light to remain faithful to God and the Church. He spelt out the reasons for the urgent need for divine protection for himself and for Ecuador, explaining "... that the lodges of our neighbouring countries, instigated by those of Germany, vomit against me all kinds of atrocious insults and horrible slander ..." Yet, Moreno accepted such detraction with Christ-like resignation, writing that it was his good fortune to suffer slander and scorn for the cause of the Redeemer. In words befitting the saint that he was, he continued: "And what joy, so immense for me ... to spill my blood for Him, being God, who wanted to spill His own on the Cross for us!"

Three weeks later, August 6 arrived. It was the first Friday of the month and the Feast of the Transfiguration. Early that morning at 6:00 am, he attended Mass and received Holy Communion at the Dominican church near his home and offices in Quito. Perhaps sensing it was to be his Viaticum, he remained at the church in prayer and thanksgiving until 8:00 am. The assassins would have struck as he left the church, but they were fearful of the large number of potential witnesses present.

Moreno returned home to work on the major address he was to deliver in a few days before the National Congress. After lunch he began walking to the Presidential Palace along with only one aide-de-camp. He stopped first at the Cathedral to spend some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, which was exposed during the daytime hours. Small groups of conspirators had been hanging about the central Plaza throughout the day. One of their leaders, Faustino Lemos Rayo, became concerned that the long minutes the president was spending in Adoration would upset the timing of their plans.

Rayo arranged to have a messenger enter the Cathedral and tell the president that his presence was needed for some important business. Upon hearing this, Moreno departed the Cathedral and made for the Presidential Palace, a short distance away. As he climbed the steps to the entrance, Rayo approached and whipped out a huge machete from underneath his cloak. He struck the president on the shoulder and head, while crying out "Die, Tyrant!"

Other assassins emerged from behind columns and commenced firing revolvers at the staggering and bleeding victim. There were shouts of "Die, you Jesuit!" The dying Moreno was able to utter in return, "God does not die!" Too late, a crowd of citizens and officials chased the murderers away, and an army sergeant shot and killed Rayo in the middle of the Plaza. Moreno, still breathing, was carried into the Cathedral and placed at the foot of Our Lady of Sorrows. A surgeon arrived but could do nothing in the face of the half-dozen bullet wounds and innumerable machete blows. A priest was able to administer Extreme Unction to Moreno, who expired after indicating that he forgave his killers.

He had been wearing two scapulars, one of the Passion and the other of the Sacred Heart. A relic of the True Cross was found attached to his Rosary along with a medal bearing an image of Pope Pius IX. The notes containing his agenda for the day were found in his pocket. On the last page he had composed this short and profound prayer, which is nothing less than a compendium of the spiritual life:

"My Saviour, 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 service."

Frank M. Rega is the author of Padre Pio and America [TAN, 2005], and St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims [TAN, 2007].

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