There is an entirely false idea that is often repeated and promoted by modern secularists that the Catholic Church is and has always been contrary to progress. The Catholic Church, with its incomparable doctrines and immutable moral positions, is portrayed consistently as an old-fashioned institution incapable of coping with the tremendous changes of the modern era. This has even led false Catholics to challenge the Church’s view regarding anything that does not deal with faith. These misled people forget that the Church’s confident stance on complicated moral issues has been developed over the last 2,000 years with divine help and its decisions have all been subjected to the vigorous and unforgiving test of time.
A quick perusal of any modern history book gives an impression that when the Church became involved in the moral guidance of nations the result was misery for the poor, gross corruption by the clergy and industrial stagnation. These same history books are sure to contain lurid tales about crimes committed by the Spanish Inquisition yet they gloss over the horrific crimes of the French Revolution, Stalin’s purges or Pol Pot’s reeducation camps. The truth about history is that whenever the Church’s guidance was replaced in civil society by the “will of the people” chaos was the rule of the day. Ecuador’s history is a good example of the radical contrast between the Catholic and so-called liberal rule.
In the Midst of Turmoil . . .
Ecuador, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was a piteous country with bloody civil wars and public corruption being the order of the day. Ecuador was coming apart at the seams as one unelected president after the other made himself and his cronies rich at the expense of the national treasury. Things went from bad to worse under anti-clerical dictators like Juan José Flores and José María Urbina, and there was no end to the rampant atrocities. Rich and poor alike were robbed regularly and sometimes killed by marauding bands of irregular soldiers, religion was brutally repressed and the press was completely silenced. Such were the bitter fruits resulting from the actions of men who boasted loudly that liberty and equality were their supreme goals.
Then in 1859, at the height of the misery and chaos, there came a ray of hope for Ecuador. A young man with a profound faith and tremendous willpower appeared on the political scene wishing to bring the bandits to task. Gabriel Garcia Moreno had long been involved in Ecuador’s politics without actually entering government. His early activism was limited to attacking the governing party’s corruption in the press, which resulted in his being exiled twice. However, events forced him to lay his pen aside and defend his high ideals with the sword. Although untrained in war, he clearly understood that armies win battles not by using brute force alone but by extraordinary valor and good leadership.
After gaining an unlikely military victory in the uprising against the dictator Urbina, he was voted to head a triumvirate charged with reforming the constitution and voting procedure. Upon completion of this task, he stepped down, only to be elected unanimously by the people as their new president despite his protests. The next fifteen years were a period of remarkable progress. Although Garcia Moreno did not remain in office for the entire time, his contributions to Ecuador’s peace and development were manifest.
Bringing Order Out of Chaos
Garcia Moreno’s first agenda was to put down the rebellions crippling Ecuador. This he did with such tact and forceful energy that soon his mere presence without troops in any part of Ecuador was enough to put the rebels into a panic. The military was reformed gradually to become a small but well-trained force of dedicated men instead of a ruthless band of poorly paid rogues. Military discipline was imposed with severe penalties for misconduct and disrespect of authority. Under these conditions the tiny army finally became an asset rather than a liability to Ecuador.
Next, Garcia Moreno cracked down on corrupt judges who had long abused their power, and then reformed the system for governmental appointments. Positions of power were given to competent men of proven honesty rather than to the highest bidder, and the rampant practice of nepotism was limited severely. Garcia Moreno led the fiscal reform in government by refusing any payment for his services during his first term. His response when pressed by his friends to take a salary was, “I am president, not to enrich myself but to serve my country.”1 Finally, several unjust taxes were repealed and the massive foreign debts of his unethical predecessors were repaid, thereby restoring foreign trust in the Ecuadorian economy.
Garcia Moreno ruled with a compassionate iron hand. He was inflexible and his judgments were swift toward those found guilty of brigandage, murder and rebellion. However, he was forgiving to a fault the minute he sensed remorse. For example, having captured the chief of a notorious band of bandits, he had the wretch brought in chains to the presidential palace. The man was shaking when Garcia Moreno approached but instead of a severe sentence, the bandit was offered a reprieve. Garcia Moreno promised the bandit total amnesty on the condition he would return to his band and convince them to give themselves up. If they did, all their crimes would be pardoned and every effort would be made to reintegrate them into society. Soon the threat hanging over travelers for so long had dissolved. So effective were his methods of reforming criminals that by 1875 there were only 50 convicted prisoners remaining in Quito’s jail.
Uniting the Country
The common people, so long used to political instability and strife, understood they had a paladin in Garcia Moreno and began to work the land again. Therefore, to take full advantage of the fruits of this era of peace and prosperity, Garcia Moreno set an audacious goal to connect Guayaquil and Quito with a highway. Facing criticism and opposition from his friends and enemies, Garcia Moreno not only completed the highway in ten years but opened four other major roads to the rest of the country at the same time. Father Berthe in his biography of Garcia Moreno wrote, “Agriculture and commerce, finding these openings for their produce, at once devoted themselves to production and Ecuador woke up from a sleep [that] had lasted a thousand years.”2
As a good Catholic, Garcia Moreno was solicitous to the poor, the sick and his enemies. Having been given a large sum of money to entertain the diplomats and senators by his wife, Garcia Moreno proceeded to the poorest hospital in Quito and bought a delicious meal for all the patients. On another occasion he arrived unannounced at a hospital that was notorious for its tasteless food. Finding the food indeed unpalatable he promptly had the problem corrected to the point it rivaled the food on his own table. It is a matter of historical record that his entire presidential salary was given over to charities, and after his death it was discovered he had arranged for the upkeep of the aged mother of his worst political enemy.
A National Consecration to the Sacred Heart
Garcia Moreno’s secret to success can be found in this simple phrase of Christ, “Seek ye first the kingdom of Heaven and all other things will be given to thee.”3 He achieved his audacious goals by ordering all things according to the will of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He believed, as does the Church, that any civil society that does not acknowledge the King of Heaven cannot truly progress. Thus in 1874, in an official ceremony attended by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, Ecuador was consecrated officially to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The liberals protested that this act was a step backward and would ruin Ecuador. However, Ecuador did not regress and from that point on all undertakings seemed to flourish in an incredible way.
Because of the constant upheavals during his predecessors’ reign, the state of public education was at a nadir when Garcia Moreno began to tackle the problem. He first started with primary education, making it mandatory for all children older than eight years to attend school. To alleviate the pressure upon the various religious orders caused by this expansion, he opened a college to train laity for the teaching profession. Then he sent for teaching orders from Europe, like the Christian Brothers, to work in secondary schools. He finally focused his attentions on the college level by inviting the Jesuits to open a university in Quito and later colleges in the other major cities. His zeal was infectious, and the nation finally began to shake off its liberal coma and take a serious attitude toward public education.
A quick look at the numbers is illuminating. In 1873, there were approximately 8,000 children in the primary schools but just two years later, thanks to Garcia Moreno’s efforts, there were over 32,000 children attending school. After six years of intensive schooling, there was more real progress in Ecuador than had occurred in the previous 50 years of revolutionary rule. Sadly, after Garcia Moreno’s death, Ecuador returned to a primitive state of schooling by expelling most religious orders from their schools and replacing them with revolutionary teachers. The poor and the Indians, who had gained the most from the dedication of the religious orders, were relegated again to second-class citizenship without the benefit of public education.
The national finances under Garcia Moreno improved dramatically since trustworthy individuals were placed in positions of authority. Whereas previous liberal regimes had thrived upon rampant corruption, under Garcia Moreno’s firm hand, public officials soon realized that such infractions were not tolerated. Thus the treasury was filled for the first time in Ecuador’s history and the lot of the common people improved dramatically. Again, some numbers may help. “Between 1852 and 1890, Ecuador’s exports grew in value from slightly more than US$1 million to nearly US$10 million. Production of cacao, the most important export product in the late nineteenth century, grew from 6.5 million kilograms to 18 million kilograms during the same period.”4 Under no other ruler in its entire history has Ecuador developed economically at the pace it did during the reign of its truly Catholic president.
The Leftists React
So what was the response of the high-minded liberals in face of such obvious progress? Was it to put aside prejudice and admit that a truly Catholic state could indeed bring a nation forward? Of course not. Modern liberals will never admit that anything good can exist outside of their twisted and perverse parameters of absolute equality and liberty. When faced with proof of evident progress by a Catholic society, the liberals’ response to all the benefits Garcia Moreno had bestowed upon Ecuador was to plot his ruin. But Garcia Moreno was not afraid, for he had learned long ago from Our Lord’s divine example that true glory cannot be attained in this world, and so he prepared himself for the blow.
On August 4, 1875, Garcia Moreno sent an acquaintance a letter in which was written these prophetic words, “¡Adios! We shall never meet again on earth . . . I am about to be assassinated but I am happy to die for my Faith.”5 Two days later, Garcia Moreno returned home before going to the presidential palace. Sinister men shadowed Garcia Moreno’s every move and arranged themselves throughout the main plaza facing the Palace. Leaving home unattended, Garcia Moreno then made his way to the Cathedral to adore the Blessed Sacrament. The assassins, noting that he was spending a long time in prayer, sent a messenger into the church to call him out. Seemingly oblivious to the mortal danger, Garcia Moreno had only one aide-de-camp with him.
“God Does Not Die!”
With savage cruelty, a man named Faustino Rayo attacked Garcia Moreno with a machete and struck a terrible blow on the head. Reeling and blinded by his own blood, Garcia Moreno tried vainly to draw his pistol while the other assassins shot him. After striking Garcia Moreno twice more, severing his left arm and right hand, Rayo and his vile band again leveled their pistols. Garcia Moreno was knocked into the street motionless. Rayo, however, was not satisfied, for he attacked Garcia Moreno once again shouting, “Die, destroyer of liberty!”6 Garcia Moreno’s dying words for all to hear were, “God does not die!”7
Garcia Moreno's Story
Modern liberals clamor loudly for social justice, harmony and peace. Garcia Moreno brought all these to Ecuador. His reward was a cruel death at their hands. He did not believe in absolute liberty, rather he believed that freedom was necessary for good to flourish. One of his most memorable quotes says it all, “Liberty for everyone and for everything, except for evil and evil-doers.”8 In a truly Christian civilization, evil has no rights and those who practice evil lose their rights. In our modern neo-pagan society it would seem that not only does evil have rights but people who practice evil do so without reprisal. However, though modern society looks with benevolence upon every type of sin, the God of justice is neither blind nor deaf to the cries of the innocent.
The story of Garcia Moreno’s heroic life, so full of Catholic spirit and charity, does not grace the pages of any American history book. Ecuadorians may forget his deeds one day. Liberalism has influenced us to such a degree that some may even think him to have been too anachronistic and backwards for the modern era, and therefore deserving of his fate. But even liberals cannot deny that Garcia Moreno strove mightily to bring to fruition that prayer of Our Lord in the Our Father, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In these dark days, it is a consolation to remember the faith professed in his last words, “God does not die!”
1. Father Augustine Berthe, Garcia Moreno (London: Burns and Oates, 1889), 278. [back to text]
2. Ibid., 276. [back to text]
3. Ibid., 278. [back to text]
4. “The Era of Conservatism, 1860-1895,” https://www. hipecuador.net/ecuador/history/the-era-of-conservatism.html. [back to text]
5. Father Augustine Berthe, Garcia Moreno (London: Burns and Oates, 1889), 320. [back to text]
6. Ibid., 322. [back to text]
7. Ibid. [back to text]
8. Gary Potter, “Gabriel Garcia Moreno—Catholic Statesman and Martyr,” https://www.acla-inc.org/moreno.htm (excerpts from an article that originally appeared in From the Housetops magazine). [back to text]
Gabriel Garcia Moreno
who was Gabriel Garcia Moreno
DAILY QUOTE for July 14, 2020
SAINT OF THE DAY
St. Kateri Tekakwitha
John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about fourteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California