Seven Sorrows of Our Lady

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In Catholic Tradition, on the Friday after Passion Sunday, the Catholic Faithful are encouraged to meditate upon the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. Let us thank our Blessed Mother for all the pain and suffering she willingly accepted for our salvation.

The following is a Church approved miraculous event which occurred in Quito, Ecuador on April 20 of 1906.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

For a better understanding, let us recall a few pertinent historical circumstances. Ecuador was the first nation officially consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on March 25, 1874. This was done by the president, Gabriel Garcia Moreno, the national legislature, and Church officials, including Quito Archbishop Checa y Barba. Both of these men were later assassinated. President Moreno on Aug 6, 1875 and Archbishop Checa y Barba on Good Friday of 1877. His chalice was poisoned. Nevertheless, Ecuador was also consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on August 6, 1892.

In 1895, an extreme liberal, General Eloy Alfaro rebelled. He led a successful coup which made him dictator in power until 1901. Yet in 1906, he led another revolution and was able to grab power for another five years. One of his underlings then led a revolution against him in 1911 and General Alfaro was publicly lynched in 1912. Sadly, the mad grab for power via revolution continued in Ecuador.

Catholic President Gabriel Garcia Moreno had a brilliant mind and did much good for his country. Yet perhaps his most lasting effect was his work to transform the educational system, knowing that if the youth were raised Catholic the nation would remain robust and in God’s favor. For example, he brought the Jesuits back to Ecuador after they had been expelled and numerous other teaching orders. He insisted that Catholic religious, well trained in proper methods of education and formation, should spearhead this effort in his county.

Although General Alfaro had promised Pope Leo XIII he would maintain harmony with the Vatican, he broke the concordant and expelled the Jesuits from the Amazon region, where they had founded 152 villages. He also forbade the establishment of new religious congregations in the country.

In 1900 the Ecuadorian Congress decreed the secularization of convents. It restricted the freedom of teaching, and the colleges were unable to give examinations. In the state schools it suppressed the teaching of religion. It even revoked the decree of the National Consecration to the Sacred Heart.

JESUIT COLLEGE - SAN GABRIEL

In 1901 the government seized part of Saint Gabriel’s College from the Jesuits. The following year General Alfaro established civil marriage and divorce. In 1904 he forbade novitiates, and deprived the religious institutions of their goods, the slogan being: “Independence from Spain, independence from Rome.” In 1906, He forbade Bishop Riera from entering his diocese. The constant persecution forced the number of students in Saint Gabriel’s College to be reduced from 400 to 150. Not content with this, a decree was already prepared, to expel the Jesuits from the college they were operating since 1862, and it was one of the few Catholic colleges that remained and was recognized by many as the best school in the country. A diabolical but most effective way of de-Christianizing a country is to prevent its youth from receiving a Catholic education and formation.

It was at this critical moment in history when Our Lady chose to intervene. She chose the college dedicated to her guardian Angel, St. Gabriel. The Jesuits had originally wished to name this college after President Garcia Moreno, but he had refused the honor. Thus they had chosen his name saint.

Hanging in the dining hall of the boarding students was a color oleograph, 20” long by 16” wide of the Sorrowful Heart of Mary. It depicts Our Lady of Sorrows with her heart transfixed by seven swords. In her hands she is holding the Crown of Thorns and the three Nails. This very expressive depiction of profound sorrow and indescribably kindness in the face of the Mother of God inspires heartfelt devotion. The Jesuits had purchased three such images from a traveling French salesman. On Easter Friday, April 20, 1906 at 8 in the evening, the miracle occurred. In the hall were 35 students between the ages of 11 and 17 from every region of Ecuador, Fr. Roesh, the Prefect, Brother Alberdi, an assistant supervisor, and three other employees.

THE MIRACLE

Father Prefect was telling the children of a great tragedy in San Francisco on April 18, 1906 which had claimed the lives of 3000 people. The students were discussing this matter when two of them, Carlos Hermann and Jaime Chavez, looked up at the Virgin. Both of them and their two other companions had just made their first holy Communion one week earlier on Holy Thursday. Carlos testified: “Brother Alberdi told us about the earthquake in California and we began to speak about the Virgin. I said that the seven swords were driven in by our sins; and I looked at her, and she was moving her eyelids; and I thought that it was my imagination. The other boys looked too and we all kept looking. We knelt down and prayed an Our Father and a Hail Mary. The Virgin was moving her eyes, the left one and afterwards the right one; the first time she was moving them a little more quickly. After a repetition of two or three times she was closing both.”

Note how this miracle began when the young and innocent children - who had only recently become temples of the Most Holy Eucharist for the first time – acknowledged man’s sin and the punishments therefrom, not only in physical or material calamities but as great spiritual sorrows of Our Lord and Our Lady. Note as well how they promptly began to pray. Much reparation needed to be done in Ecuador for the anti-Catholic attacks which had been levied against the Church, Catholic education, and thus to Our Lord and Our Lady.

Although the four young boys called all the others, the priest and many of the boys refused to believe. Some delayed for more than ten minutes, but as curiosity got the better of them, bit by bit they all went over and likewise witnessed the miracle.

Eventually even Father Roesch even came and witnessed the miracle. It only ceased once he called for night prayers so the students could retire. They all wanted to remain their kneeling in prayer, but Father Prefect still thinking it was some hoax or illusion insisted they follow their customary discipline. The miracle had lasted for a quarter of an hour.

Nevertheless, as soon as they left the dining hall, immediately the news spread throughout the house. The miracle of the Virgin’s moving eyes occurred on several more occasions. The second time it was again before the students of the academy at 8 in the evening as the students were paying before the holy image, which by now had been moved into their chapel. They had finished their Rosary and were praying the Litany or Loreto when all the boys spontaneously explained, “Her eyes are moving!”

THE DEVOTION GROWS

Such extraordinary events, observed by so many people, soon became the object of a serious examination by the Ecclesiastical Authorities. The canonical procedures were conducted with great prudence, much to the consolation of the faithful. Six weeks after the first miracle, the Vicar General of the diocese ordered the transfer of the miraculous image. It was carried in procession from the academy chapel to the adjacent Jesuit Fathers' church, where a solemn triduum was to be celebrated. It was a magnificent procession. All the communities in the city, the various associations and solidarities, the academies and schools, most of the aristocracy of the capital and over thirty thousand people took part. Such a manifestation of faith, so spontaneous and on such a grand scale, had seldom been seen in the peaceful city of Quito. In the church, the wonder was renewed several times before the crowd. Many many conversions followed.

One remarkable conversion was that of the editor of El Tiempo, one of the most anti-religious newspapers of the period. The unbelieving journalist had joined the crowd of the faithful with the sole intention of mocking the Blessed Virgin. However, almost as soon as he saw Her open and close Her eyes, he fell to his knees and broke into tears of true repentance. His way of life subsequently proved the sincerity of his conversion.

Another unbeliever came to church at the very moment the people were enthusiastically exclaiming that the prodigy was being renewed. With great insolence he remained standing in front of the image. When he saw the Blessed Virgin's eyes move, he exclaimed, "I don't believe it!" and then left. Once outdoors, he retraced his steps, saw the movement of the eyes as he had the first time, repeated the same declaration of unbelief and left again. But something kept forcing him to go back to the church. This disturbed him, and he went in a third time. Grace triumphed over his obstinacy at last and he fell to his knees, weeping like a child.

Many people who witnessed this miracle attested that when they saw it, they felt strongly moved by grace and drawn to the practice of virtue. Numerous conversions ensued.

Shortly after the triduum, a novena was begun to ask for Our Lady's help on behalf of Ecuador. The prodigy of the eyes was renewed on three consecutive days and witnessed by many people.

When the first miracle had occurred, the episcopal see of Quito was vacant. Bishop Federico Gonzáles Suárez of Ibarra was named to fill the vacancy. Appointed Archbishop of Quito, he took possession of his new see on July 6, 1906; that day the miracle was renewed three times. The third occurrence took place at two o'clock in the afternoon, at the very moment the new archbishop entered the city, and as the choir was singing:

Vuelve otra vez, Maria, Los maternales ojos, A los que aqui de hinojos, Te piden compasión.
Once again, O Mary, Turn thy motherly eyes Upon those who kneel before thee, Imploring thy compassion.

The Blessed Virgin in the picture moved Her eyes slowly. Then the background of the image faded and only the face stood out in relief. Its complexion was that of a living person. The Blessed Virgin opened and closed Her eyes. Twice She lifted them to Heaven. At times She seemed to be making an effort to hold back Her tears. Then Her face turned pale and waxen, as though She were about to die. Filled with dismay, the faithful burst into tears and cried out, begging for pardon and mercy. At last the face of the Blessed Virgin returned to its usual serenity and natural color.

CHURCH APPROVAL

The canonical investigation was conducted with all due gravity. Over forty witnesses singed declarations under oath. The Commission of Inquiry also proceeded scrupulously in the scientific study of the event in question. Several commissions made up of men of science were formed; they were to establish whether any kind of natural explanation were possible. Physicists, chemists, photographers, physicians and theologians deliberated at great length. To avoid the slightest suspicion of partiality or self-interest, the Jesuits were not authorized to participate in these commissions.

Calumniators did not fail to attack these proceedings and label everything as a hoax. Therefore, it had to be proven that there was no reasonable foundation to their critical allegations.

Once the inquiry and the prescribed formalities were concluded, the Vicar General issued the following declaration in Quito on June 3, 1906:
1. The event which occurred on April 20th in the Jesuit Fathers' Academy is established as historically certain.
2. The event, considering the circumstances in which it occurred, cannot be explained by natural laws.
3. The event, because of what preceded it as well as what followed it, cannot be attributed to any diabolical influence.

And the decree adds: Consequently, [1] it is permitted to believe in it. [2] The faithful may render to the image that occasioned this event the public devotions permitted by the Church, [3] and pray before the image with legitimate confidence.

One important detail remains. This miracle had been predicted, though obscurely, by the Blessed Virgin Herself to a young girl of high virtue, well known for her supernatural gifts. Several days before the event, Mary had revealed to her that She intended to give a special sign of Her approval of the practice of children being taught and formed by religious. St. Gabriel's Academy had reached a point of total decline. But then, in 1906, at the height of the anti-clerical era, the April 20th miracle occurred in the presence of the students and Fathers of the academy. The academy received a new lease on life, and from that day on it experienced a flourishing revival. The Jesuits had to build a large college in the northern part of the City, the miraculous image was transferred to the larger chapel there, and to this day faithful pilgrims may see Our Sorrowful Lady of Quito there and venerate her image.