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On a Marian Pilgrimage: The Return of Our Great Queen

 

On a pilgrimage to visit the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Good Success, I embarked for Quito, Ecuador with great expectations.

 

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Part of my task in taking part in this TFP pilgrimage was to help with the solemnities of her February 2 feast. However, I also hoped to immerse myself in what was once a truly Catholic culture. I wanted to imbibe the supernatural in this city filled with convents and churches.

All the elements were certainly there. High atop Panecillo Hill, the towering statue of Our Lady of Quito could be seen throughout the city. In the square-mile historical center, there is not only a huge domed cathedral but at least ten massive conventual churches representing Dominicans, Jesuits, Augustinians, Mercedarians, Franciscans, Carmelites, Conceptionists and others. All these churches are architectural marvels, many dating from the sixteenth century. Each could nobly serve as a cathedral in any American diocese.

I was pleased to see that many of these churches are in good repair. Nearly all are undergoing major restorations. The Jesuit Church in downtown Quito has the most beautiful and awe-inspiring woodwork I have ever seen. Gold covers not only the altars but the whole ceiling. Workmen were busy restoring the gold-leafing to its original and radiant splendor.

Everything was set for a glorious pilgrimage. However, after visiting a few of these churches on the first day, I was perplexed and disappointed.

 

Restorations Without Grace

Perhaps the restorations themselves were part of the problem. I was told that world organizations were pouring money into these restorations both to preserve them and contribute to the city’s tourist attractions. Quito was actually named the first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While the restorations were well done, I felt they were almost archeological endeavors totally disconnected from Catholic worship. The same concern for historical detail could just as easily apply to an ancient Buddhist pagoda or an Incan temple. Indeed, the admission fees charged to enter some churches did little to dispel the impression of a museum-like atmosphere.

I was told to be sure to visit the Cathedral’s crypt where the saintly anti-liberal president and martyr Garcia Moreno is buried. Entering beneath, I found the floor covered with dirt. Straw and hay were strewn about. Boards and old debris were haphazardly placed near the walls. The once immaculate crypt, where I had hoped to pray, was now presented in this manner to give it a “sixteenth century look.”

Another factor that added to my perplexity is the fact that Quito is a modern city. It suffers from the same errors, indecent fashions and loose morals of any city in our days. At first glance, the modern masses that crowded the busy streets seemed so out of context with these great monuments of the past.

I had seen the great church buildings but I longed to know the kind of Catholic souls that built these churches and gave them their true meaning.

 

A Prayer Heard

It was almost by accident that Our Lady granted my wish.

Preparing the statue of Our Lady of Good Success for the procession. One man holds a large, beautiful crown. Our Lady is dressed in a white dress with small flowers and long white lace veil. As part of the activities of this TFP pilgrimage, I was asked to help resurrect an old traditional procession called the “Rosary of the Dawn.”

A small replica of the statue of Our Lady of Good Success had long been carried through the streets of downtown Quito on the dawn of her feast while the people prayed the rosary and sang hymns. With the passage of the years, the procession had dwindled to a few dozen faithful.

A few days before the feast, I was happily recruited to distribute invitations to the “Rosary of the Dawn” at the doors of churches.

With my broken Spanish, I began to talk to Ecuadorian Catholics and change my superficial perspective. In the weathered and suffered faces of those who passed by, I began to see the glimmer of a profoundly religious people.

We hoped at least some of these Catholics might attend the early morning procession and intensified our efforts over the next few days hardly knowing what to expect.

 

The Rosary of the Dawn

At 4:30 a.m. on the day of the procession, we gathered before Our Lady in the darkened Church praying for “good success.”

As five o’clock neared, the first groups of people slowly filtered in. They soon started coming in spurts and then in torrents – people of all ages, men, women and children, fragile elderly ladies, husky men and young students. Whole communities of religious nuns filed in until we were astonished to see the church jammed with nearly a thousand people.

Before Quito awoke, the procession formed outside and Our Lady returned to parade in triumph through the main streets and central square.

It was then that I saw that my wish was granted. I had a privileged place in the procession right next to the statue helping to direct the litter bearers amid the crowd. As I looked upon the sea of Ecuadorian faces, I saw their supreme jubilation. We were showered (if not pelted) with rose petals in a display of contagious Latin exuberance.

It was as if the people were unshackled from their modern miseries and, forgetting themselves, now only thought of their queen and mother. The somber strains of the Spanish hymns filled the streets speaking of a tender child-like devotion: 

O my mother who art in heaven
Send counsels to my heart
And when sad, weeping I call upon thee
And thy sweet blessings thou will bestow.
 
For a brief moment, I had a glimpse of the kind of Catholic souls that built those great churches. When a whole society is imbued with this kind of enthusiasm for the Faith, its churches rise to heaven… and heaven comes down to earth.
 
 

A Heavenly Link

If Quito is privileged to many miracles and apparitions, it is because heaven could not forsake devotion like I had seen.  Indeed, in those colonial times, heaven did come down to earth. That is why you can see in its churches the places where miracles happened through particular statues and devotions. That is why the Blessed Mother appeared on so many occasions to look after her children. It is as if there was a constant intercommunication between heaven and earth.While such a link is not as evident today, the unction of that relationship still pervades in the city.

You can see it in the touching popular devotion to Christ, bloody and scourged, in His Passion under invocations like Christ of the Great Strength or Our Lord of the Divine Love. You can see it in the “unrestored” side altars full of flowers, candles and testimonies of graces received. Indeed, the charm that attracts one to Quito lies in what remains of this link to heaven.
 
 
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Our Lady of Good Success

Finally, there is Our Lady of Good Success, the object of my pilgrimage. It is an extraordinary statue resulting from a heavenly visit to Sister Mariana de Jesus Torres in 1610 at the Conceptionist Convent. Her prophecies are specifically about our own tragic days.

Although personal impressions may differ, I must say she far exceeded my expectations.

Although extremely maternal, she appears more as a queen than a mother. Everything about her is regal and majestic. She seems to be in lofty contemplation yet completely in control of everything around her. She appears sad not because of anything done to her, but by our failure to have recourse to her as queen.

She did not inspire in me a desire to ask for small things or favors. As all- powerful queen, she invites us to ask for great things – an end to the crisis inside the Church, a major conversion, a change of heart, or help in our personal struggle against so many things destroying society.

Yet her message is one of hope – good success. Her prophecies speak of times when she will again be recognized as queen.

I left Quito with my great expectations satisfied. I left with the certainty that we will see our great queen parading in triumph in city streets and squares. It will come about not through the sterile restorations of old buildings but the fruitful restoration of Catholic souls from which will come her reign foreseen at Fatima.
 

 
 
 
 
Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 24, 2020

The devotions we practice in honor of the glorious Virgin Ma...

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November 24

 

The devotions we practice in honor of the glorious Virgin Mary,
however trifling they may be,
are very pleasing to Her Divine Son, and
He rewards them with eternal glory.

St. Teresa of Avila


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Andrew Dung-Lac and the Martyrs of Vietnam

Vietnamese Christians were ordered to trample on a crucifix...

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St. Andrew Dung-Lac and the Martyrs of Vietnam

Born in 1795 in the Tonkinese town of Bac-Nihh in North Vietnam, Tran An Dung was the son of pagan parents. In search of work for themselves in 1807, his parents moved to the ancient citadel of Hanoi. Here their twelve-year-old son was taken care of by a catechist and for three years was instructed in the Catholic faith. Baptized in Vinh-Tri, he received the Christian name Andrew (Anrê) in baptism and went on to learn both Chinese and Latin and himself became a catechist. He was selected for further studies in theology and was ordained to the priesthood on March 15, 1823.

An exemplary pastor, Andrew was ardent and indefatigable in his preaching, often fasted, and drew many to the Faith by his simple and moral life. As a testament of the love which his congregation had for him, in 1835, when he was imprisoned during the persecution of the Annamite emperor Minh-Mang, his freedom was purchased exclusively by donations from his parishioners.

The Vietnamese Christians suffered unspeakably during this time. Beginning in 1832 Minh-Mang expelled all foreign missionaries and commanded all Vietnamese Christians to demonstrate their renunciation of the Catholic Faith by trampling on a crucifix. Churches were destroyed; religious instruction was forbidden. Christians were branded on the face with the words ta dao (false religion) and Christian families and villages were obliterated. Many endured extreme privations and hardship; many more were put to death for their fidelity to the Faith.

To avoid further persecution by the authorities, Andrew Dung changed his name to Lac and relocated to a different region. While visiting a fellow priest, in order to confess himself, Dung-Lac was arrested with Father Peter Thi on November 10, 1839. In exchange for a monetary ransom paid to their captors, the two priests were liberated, but their freedom was short-lived. Re-arrested not long afterwards, they were taken to Hanoi and severely tortured. They were beheaded shortly before Christmas Day on December 21, 1839.

The priests, Andrew Dung-Lac and Peter Thi, were beatified on May 27, 1900 by Pope Leo XIII and formed part of a group of Vietnamese martyrs beatified together on that day. Another group, Dominicans all, was beatified on May 20, 1906 and a third on May 2, 1909 both by Pope St. Pius X. A fourth group, which included two Spanish bishops, was beatified on April 29, 1951 by Pope Pius XII. All 117 martyrs were canonized in Rome on June 19, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

These 117 martyrs met their deaths during several persecutions of Christians that swept through the Vietnamese peninsula between the years 1625 and 1886. Approximately 130,000 gave their lives for the Catholic Faith and further beatifications may be expected from amongst their glorious ranks. Among the 117 that have been canonized were 96 Vietnamese and 21 foreign missionaries. Of the Vietnamese group 37 were priests and 59 were lay people, among whom were catechists and tertiaries. One of them was a woman, mother of six children. Of the missionaries 11 were Spaniards: 6 bishops and 5 priests, all Dominicans; and 10 were French: 2 bishops and 8 priests from the Société des Missions Etrangères in Paris.

The tortures these martyrs endured were among the worst in the history of Christian martyrdom. The means included cutting off limbs joint by joint, ripping living bodies with red hot tongs, and the use of drugs to enslave the minds of the victims. Among the 117 Martyrs of Vietnam, 76 were beheaded, 21 were suffocated, 6 burnt alive, 5 mutilated and 9 died in prison as a result of torture.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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