Saint Ezekiel Moreno among Filipinos

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Early years

Saint Ezekiel was born on 9 April 1848 at Alfaro, La Rioja, Spain. He donned the Augustinian Recollect habit in Monteagudo, Navarra. He professed his solemn vows in Marcilla also in Navarra on 22 September 1868. On 10 February 1870, he arrived in Manila and lived in the now-extinct convent and formation house of San Nicolás in Intramuros, then popularly known as Recoletos, where he finished his theological formation. In middle part of 1870 he sailed to Jaro, Iloilo, to receive tonsure and minor orders from the Dominican bishop of the Visayan diocese.

From Manila to Mindoro and Palawan

On 2 June 1871, Ezekiel was ordained as priest by Archbishop Gregorio Melitón Martínez of Manila. The Augustinian Recollect prior provincial then sent him to his first parochial assignment in Calapan, Mindoro. There he learned and perfected his Tagalog. In February 1872, he was appointed chief missionary, penal colony and military chaplain of a missionary expedition whose objective was to set up a military stronghold and penal colony at Puerto Princesa in Palawan. He likewise laid the foundation of Inagawan and the town of Aborlan. Malaria almost put an end to his life while in a missionary sally to Inagawan. But it ended his apostolate with the Tagbanuas and his pastoral ministry with the colonists and converts of Puerto Princesa.

Curate of Calapan and Las Piñas

A frigate took the ailing missionary to Manila in January 1873. Thence, Ezekiel traveled to Talisay in Negros Occidental to undergo hydrotherapeutic treatment of his anemia under his confrere Father Fernando Cuenca. In March of that year he returned to the colonial capital to accept his new assignment as parish priest of Calapan. Despite his young age, the archbishop of Manila and the Recollect provincial appointed the twenty-eight-year-old Saint Ezekiel as vicar forane and vicar provincial of the vast Mindoro Island.

Las Piñas opposes his transfer to Santo Tomas, Batangas

The holy missionary priest left for Las Piñas in June 1876. Here his pastoral zeal glowed all the more. Four calamities wreaked havoc on the townspeople during the triennium: the droughts of 1876 and 1878 with immeasurable damage to the rice fields; the smallpox outbreak that took the lives of 126 children, and finally the great fire of 1879 that razed the población to the ground. The townsfolk closely observed his paternal love and charity for the marginalized sectors of Las Piñas society.
From Manila came in June 1879 the disheartening news of his imminent transfer to Santo Tomas, Batangas. This was met with unabashed sorrow that turned to stiff opposition by the people. The town leaders lost no time in redacting a petition addressed to higher authorities. Forty-one signed the manifesto: “We are all saddened by the news that our curate who has been very conscientious of his obligations and forbearing with the poor is going to be relieved.”
They implored the provincial not to remove their saintly curate. “From the moment,” the manifesto continues, “our dear parish priest took possession of this curacy, he faithfully and religiously accomplished his duties without any fanfare such as going frequently to the houses of ill people. He watched over and protected these sick persons. He preached on all Sundays and holy days. To the children, he imparted Christian doctrine. He distributed alms to every fire victim and most of all he gave good example to all the people.”
The town executives did not content themselves with the manifesto. Without previous knowledge and consent of their parish priest, according to a Las Piñas resident Mrs. Felipa Villareal in the beatification process in Manila, some 250 parishioners trekked to Intramuros and personally delivered the letter to the provincial. It was perhaps the first people power ever seen in the walled city. Given the delicate political situation following the execution of Gom-Bur-Za, the whole episode provided a moral boost to the Augustinian Recollect apostolate. It was indeed a sincere manifestation of affection for a hardworking and exemplary friar by a grateful people.

Parish priest of Santo Tomas, Batangas, and Santa Cruz, Manila

Saint Ezekiel, it goes without saying, obeyed the superiors’ wishes and travelled to his new ministry at Santo Tomás in Batangas. In October 1880, he was called back to Manila for the post of general preacher of the Order. The Batangas townsfolk wrote a letter to Manila requesting the suspension of his transfer. But all effort was futile.

Curate of Santa Cruz, Manila

After three months in Intramuros as official preacher, he was sent to Santa Cruz in Manila as curate in February 1881. A prominent parishioner, Supreme Court Associate Justice Florentino D. Torres (1844-1927), declared in 1914: “I am familiar with his zeal for the salvation of souls. My personal impression of Father Ezekiel was of a priest remarkable in his sacerdotal virtues and very severe in his mores. He had a great proclivity for recollection. He was a perfect parish priest.”

Charity in the time of cholera at Bacoor and Imus, Cavite

In 1882-1885, Saint Ezekiel administered the Recollect haciendas of Bacoor and Imus in Cavite. During the horrifying cholera plague, he took charge of the barrios of Mambog and Salinas in Bacoor where 3,200 perished in the bacterial epidemic. Of this figure, only three people died without receiving the last sacraments. And it was because their relatives had not called for the priest on time!

Spain and Colombia

Saint Ezekiel’s election in 1885 as superior of the novitiate in Monteagudo, Navarra paved the way for his return to the land of his birth. He trained future missionaries for Asia and America. Three years later, he crossed the Atlantic and headed for Colombia as superior of the mission to restore the Recollect Order that was on the verge of extinction in that South American country. He resided in Bogotá until 1894 when he was consecrated Apostolic Vicar of Casanare. In 1896, he was transferred to the diocese of Pasto in southern Colombia. There he defended his flock against the doctrinal errors of the time and zealously promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Cancer of the palate and death at Monteagudo, Spain

In mid-1905, Bishop Moreno was diagnosed to have cancer in the palate. He was operated on—but without success—in Madrid in February and March 1906. Resigned to his fate, on 31 May he journeyed back to Monteagudo to spend his remaining days on earth under the protection of his celestial patroness, Our Lady of the Way. On 19 August 1906, he died in the odor of sanctity. In 1915 and again in 1975 his mortal remains were exhumed and found incorrupt.
Two divine miracles wrought through his intercession were officially approved by the Church: Carmela Jurado of Pasto healed of cancer of the palate in 1947 and María Jesús Ñáñez Díaz of Buesaco in Colombia whose breast cancer was prodigiously cured in 1986. In the Philippines, we have news of a miraculous healing of Lilia Sirios of Escalante, Negros Occidental, who had cancer in the throat in 1979. The prodigies constitute clear evidence of Saint Ezekiel’s special predilection for terminally ill people with unwavering faith and confidence in God.

Beatification in 1975

Blessed Paul VI beatified him on 1 November 1975 and presented him for the veneration and emulation of the faithful. The Holy Father declared in his homily: “His zeal is always shown as indefatigable in the proclamation of God’s Word, in the ministry of the Sacrament of Penance, in the care of the sick day and night, in the firm defense of his flock against the errors of the time, yet always manifesting his love and gentleness towards people muddled in error.” The Roman Pontiff further proclaimed that Bishop Ezekiel Moreno was “a living example of holiness for all bishops.”

Canonization in 1992

Saint John Paul II canonized him on 11 October 1992 as the Saint of the Fifth Centennial of the Evangelization of America. The Roman Pontiff announced at the canonization rites in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: “He is a model evangelist whose ardent desire to proclaim Christ guided all the steps of his life. His unshakable faith in God, which was at all times nourished by an intense interior life, was the great force which sustained him in his dedication to the service of all, especially the poor and the abandoned.”

Epitome of the Augustinian Recollect way of life

Saint Ezekiel is another glory of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, after Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Saint Pedro Calungsod. The holy friar had spent the prime of his life on our very own Philippine soil. The Filipino witnesses of the beatification process in 1914 remembered him very well as a great promoter of Marian devotions, an indefatigable missionary, an efficacious preacher, a great lover of the poor and the sick, a dedicated catechist, an exemplary curate and an enthusiastic devotee of the Blessed Sacrament, who spent countless hours of mental prayer at church or in his room.

His close contemporaries and confreres saw him as a great observant of the evangelical counsels, a perfect exemplar of the charisma of the Augustinian Recollect Order. This modern saint, as former Prior General Javier M. Pipaón had accurately observed, “encompasses all the characteristics of the ideal Augustinian Recollect: prayer, apostolic work and common life.” After all, Saint Ezekiel Moreno is—as Saint John Paul II had proclaimed in 1992—“an example of living faith and genuine Christian life.”

 

Source: First of Four Chapters of the book “Life and Spirituality of Saint Ezekiel Moreno, Parish Priest of Las Piñas (1876-1879)”. Recoletos Communications. Quezon City 2015.

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Prof. Emmanuel Luis Romanillos

Prof. Emmanuel Luis Romanillos

Author and Church Historian

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