Alfonso Gallegos was born during hard times. The Great Depression of the 1930’s was worldwide. It was made more excruciating in the United States of America when the dry spell, the longest in modern American history, struck the Great Plains, affecting mainly the Midwest and the Southwest, the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. These areas became known as the Dust Bowl.
The lack of economic stability and the fear of starvation led people to flee their homelands in search of better opportunities. Thousands fled to California, which itself was reeling from high unemployment and low wages. This economic situation led to social unrest, worsened by the government’s default on spending that adversely affected all public services including education.
It was then during this time in a place not far from California, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the baby boy Alfonso was born. It was February 20, 1931. At the age of 7, the little boy and his family took the lead of the many others and moved to Watts, Los Angeles, California hoping for the better. Watts was a home to a growing community of Mexicans and Mexican American migrants. It was among them that Alfonso grew up until he left his home in 1950 to enter in the seminary of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in Kansas City. He was ordained priest in 1958.
Four years after his priestly ordination, he was assigned as pastor in his home parish in Watts. Here he dedicated his primary attention to the out-of-school youth who were prone to drugs and criminal activities. But the young Father Alfonso did not judge them, must less evaded them. Rather he spent time with them and encouraged and even helped them to go back to school and obtain university degree. This move brought about a change of life to many who heeded his encouragement. His pastoral care improved the environment of the area. Church attendance increased, crime rates dropped and people felt safe to go around. He infused hope into the community.
Aware of the growing population of the Hispanic migrants in California, in 1979 the California Bishops Conference named Alfonso Gallegos as the first Director of the Hispanic Affairs, California Catholic Conference. Its main objective was to organize and implement programs for the benefit of the Spanish-speaking migrants coming to the United States. In these Hispanic Affairs, Gallegos kept up with legislation and issues affecting the Hispanic community and provided this information to the Bishops. His appointment in 1981 as Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento was a recognition of the new demographics and a response to the need for ecclesiastical leadership for this rapidly growing Hispanic population. Gallegos was the first Mexican-American Bishop to serve the Church in Sacramento since 1861.
He visited and stayed with the migrants in the labour camps, spoke out for them before the government legislators and assured them of the welcoming embrace of the Church. He would spend various nights during the week with the youth in the parks, befriended gang members by talking to them, encouraging them to leave behind drugs and criminal activities and strive for a better future. He blessed the cars of the “low riders” and rode with them. He championed the right of the unborn children. Everyone had a place in his agenda, the poor, the sick, the aged and those in prisons regardless of their creed, colour and culture. He was a Bishop always on the move, spending most of his time with his flock. As one witness during the diocesan process testified, “Bishop Gallegos was always trying to be there for every one, that at times, he would forget to take care of himself”.
Now a day, the world needs shepherds whose life is configured to Christ; shepherds who do not ask for what they stand to gain but what they can give to others; shepherds who do not seek to win people for themselves but to lose themselves for others. People want to see a joyful zeal in the ministers of Christ, ministers who carry out their task with enthusiasm, thus, giving credible witness to the Gospel message. Bishop Gallegos´ life is a response to these noble aspirations. Although throughout his life he had to bear the serious effects of his myopic eye problem, never for an instance did he lose his optimism. His wide smile was a constant mark of his personality. “What a beautiful day!” was his usual expression. He was not a scholar nor considered an intellectual but his preaching touched people’s hearts because God had first touched his own. He chose as motto for his episcopal coat of arms “Love one another”.
Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Bishop Gallegos said, “I would like to be remembered as having helped the young people how to appreciate who they are and to value the life God has given them. I would also like to be remembered as having appreciated people and all that they have to offer in making the world a better place to live in” (The Sacramento Bee Magazine, January 18, 1987).
A vehicular accident in the evening of October 6, 1991 claimed the life of this Hispanic Bishop at the age of 60. Earlier during the day, he joined a march against abortion, visited a young AIDS patient and finally administered the sacrament of confirmation to 71 candidates. His funeral claims the record attendance of grieving people in the diocese of Sacramento up to now.
A year after his death, a street connecting the State Capitol Building and the Cathedral of Sacramento was named “Bishop Gallegos Square”. It serves as bridge to bring the teaching of Jesus to the lawmakers, reminding them that one of their important and sacred duties is to help the migrants find a better place for themselves and for their families. His bronze statue stands in this same place. On March 27, 2010, his mortal remains were transferred to a new tomb in Our Lady of Guadalupe National Shrine.
Considering his saintly life and his intercessory prayers before the Lord, the diocesan process for his Cause of beatification and canonization was opened on December 4, 2005 at the Cathedral of Sacramento. After interviewing 130 witnesses and gathering the pertinent available documents, the process was concluded on November 5, 2006. The Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Vatican approved the validity of the diocesan process on July 4, 2008. The Positio on his life, virtues and fame of sanctity was submitted to the same Congregation on June 27, 2014. The Theologians approved his heroic virtues on March 17, 2016. The Congress of the Cardinals and Bishops gave their affirmative votes on July 5, 2016. Finally, on July 8, 2016, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation of the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree attesting to his sanctity of life and the heroic practice of virtues.
With a miracle attributed to his intercession he can be declared blessed and with one more he will be due for canonization. For now we rejoice and content ourselves with the assurance of his sanctity as the Church recognizes the Bishop of the Barrio as Venerable Alfonso Gallegos.
This year’s celebration of the Solemnity of St. Ezekiel Moreno took a deeper significance for the entire Province. Commencing the opening of the celebration of the Quadricentenary in Cavite, the Solemn Feast of St. Ezekiel Moreno was marked with a concelebrated Mass last August 19, 2016 at Our Lady of the Pillar Parish. The theme of the celebration is “Recoletos de Cavite: 400 years of continuing evangelization” (1616 – 2016).
On the feast of St. Monica, the pious mother of St. Augustine, August 27, the 2nd round of the lecture series on the Life and works of Padre Mauricio Ferrero, OAR, whose centennial death anniversary is celebrated, will be held at the UNO-R President’s Hall at 8 am.
Ezequiél Moreno y Díaz, OAR was a member of the Order of Augustinian Recollects and now venerated as a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He was born on April 9, 1848 in Alfaro, La Rioja, Spain and later served as a missionary to the Philippines. He also became the Bishop of Pinara and later of Pasto, in Colombia.
His brother Julián Moreno, OAR, is also venerated as a Blessed because of his martyrdom in Motril. Saint Ezequiel is popularly invoked as the patron of cancer patients.
Early life and entry to the Order of Augustinian Recollects
Born in the city of Alfaro, La Rioja, Spain to Félix Moreno and María Josefa Díaz, he was the third of six children along with Eustaquio, Juana, Valentina and Benigna. His fourth sister, named María de las Candelas, died.
Ezequiel first wore the habit of the Recoletos in Monteagudo, Navarra, Spain on September 21, 1864. Later, he made his solemn vow in Marcialla (also in Navarra) on September 22, 1868.
Arrival and ordination in Manila
The monastery in Monteagudo was known for dispatching missionaries to both the Americas and the Philippines. As expected, the saint sailed for Manila, the capital of the Captaincy General of the Philippines, arriving there on February 10, 1870.
In the middle that year, St. Ezequiel sailed on to the Visayan town of Jaro, Iloilo where he received and finished his minor orders. A year later, he returned to Manila to receive his sacerdotal orders from the Archbishop of Manila, Gregorio Melitón Martínez. Today, the letter of the Archbishop informing him of his sacerdotal ordination is one of the best-preserved manuscripts from the period. After ordination, he was immediately sent to his first mission in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. There, he became proficient in Tagalog that at his canonisation, Filipinos Catholics remarked that the language is now "a language of the saints."
Two years after his arrival in the colony, he undertook the arduous task of being Military Chaplain to a penal colony, now Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, in Puerto Princesa City. He was among the founders of the town of Aborlan, Palawan and Barangay Inagawan in Puerto Princesa. St. Ezequiel was struck by malaria, which forced him to leave the island.
When he was able to recover from the disease, he was again made in charge of a mission in Calapan. Though only 28 years old, both the Archbishop of Manila and his Recollect Prior assigned him as Vicar Forane of Mindoro
Return to Manila and surrounding areas
In 1876, he was transferred to what is now Las Piñas and worked zealously for the development of the lives of the people in the area. The town suffered many major calamities during his pastorship, yet the people did not lose hope because of his example. This saintly way of life that he exemplified caused the people of Las Piñas to oppose his transfer to Santo Tomás, Batangas.
The appeal, as strong as it was, was not successful and St. Ezequiel was transferred to Santo Tomás. However, he was recalled to Manila because he was appointed General Preacher of the Order of Augustinian Recollects. The people of Santo Tomas also made an appeal to suspend the order but like what happened in Las Piñas, their request was not granted. He assumed the post in October 1880 and as Preacher General, was assigned parish priest of the nearby Santa Cruz district in present-day Manila, assuming the post in February 1881.
A year later, he was assigned to take charge of the Recollect hacienda in the towns of Imus and Bacoor in Cavite. During his stay, the towns were struck by cholera and the priest worked hard to administer the Last Rites to as many of the faithful as possible that of the 3,200 victims, only three died without receiving the Last Rites.
Election as superior of Monteagudo
His saintly life made him elected as Superior to the Seminary in Monteagudo in 1885. Through this post, St. Ezequiel imparted his missionary zeal to many missionaries to the Americas and the Philippines.
It was in 1888 that he once more crossed the Atlantic Ocean and became the head of the Recollect mission in Colombia. He served as Vicar apostolic of Casanare and was named bishop of Pinara, Colombia on October 23, 1893. He became Bishop of Pasto, Colombia on December 2, 1893. He was noted for his generous charity to the faithful of his diocese and his ardent attacks against the liberal party from the pulpit.
Involvement in Colombian politics
As most of the Colombian Church hierarchy, Ezequiel Moreno aligned himself with the Colombian Conservative Party. During the Thousand Days War, he used his writings and preaching sermons to attack the Colombian Liberal Party and to urge Catholics to fight the liberals and to "defend their religion with Remingtons and machetes", promising automatic Absolution.
In 1906 a diagnosis of cancer caused him to relunctantly return to Spain for treatment.
There he died August 19, 1906. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975 and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1992.