The Augustinian Recollect saint did important work in mission areas in the Philippines and Colombia. Today these are socially and spiritually developed areas.
The figure of Saint Ezekiel Moreno, first Augustinian Recollect saint and bishop of Pasto, is closely related to the mission. From the beginning of his religious life, he had the missionary zeal. In the Philippines and Colombia, the work he developed in these countries is still important today.
The founding of Puerto Princesa
In 1871, after being ordained a priest in Manila, he was sent as a missionary to the Philippines. The Prior Provincial entrusted him and the Augustinian Recollect Antonio Muro the task of evangelizing the city of Puerto Princesa, after the Philippine government had asked the Augustinian Recollects for their presence in this new work on the island of Palawan.
The Augustinian Recollect historian Angel Martínez Cuesta recounts that “their activity in the colony was very intense”. While the Philippine expeditionaries were building barracks and shaping the new city, the two Augustinian Recollects built the first chapel. But their work did not stop there. They extended their religious presence to the towns of Babuyan, Tulariquin – very far from the parish of Taytay – and Inagauan. After a year and an outstanding action with the Philippine natives, he retired to Manila due to malaria. However, Martínez Cuesta says that “the sting of the missions had been stuck in his heart, and would not leave him.”
The Augustinian Recollects are still present in Puerto Princesa, an Apostolic Vicariate since 1955. The imprint of Saint Ezekiel Moreno is palpable among the faithful, who profess great devotion to the Augustinian Recollect saint. There is a chapel dedicated to him in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Puerto Princesa, whose construction was promoted by the Recollect missionaries.
Saint Ezekiel Moreno, parish priest of Calapan and vicar provincial of Mindoro
In 1873, he was assigned to the island of Mindoro, as parish priest of Calapan and vicar provincial of the missionaries. As vicar provincial, St. Ezekiel Moreno proposed to the government the installation of five new missionary centers, which, although approved by Royal Order of February 28, 1878, would not be covered until nine years later. From 1876 to 1885 he administered the parishes of Las Piñas and Santo Tomás, in the island of Luzon.
“Although in none of these offices did he have the opportunity to exercise a strictly missionary activity, he always continued to live in contact with the poor, the sick and the marginalized. Everywhere he went, he assisted thousands of victims of cholera, smallpox, hunger and misfortune,” notes historian Martínez Cuesta.
The Order of Augustinian Recollects is no longer present in the town where Saint Ezekiel Moreno celebrated his first mass as a priest. However, recently the clergy celebrated a Eucharist in Mindoro on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Province of San Ezekiel Moreno and its historic presence in this place.
Restoration of the Casanare missions
After his work in the Philippines, Saint Ezequiel Moreno was sent to Colombia. There – recalls Ángel Martínez Cuesta – “the missionary ember that nested in his soul was rekindled”. Since his arrival in Bogotá, he struggled to revive the mission of Casanare, something they tried to dissuade him from doing because of the harm the indigenous tribes might do.
Saint Ezekiel Moreno disregarded all comments. Together with three religious and two diocesan priests, he traveled to Casanare. For three and a half months he traveled those immense plains, administering sacraments, regulating marriages, visiting the sick and, above all, taking notes on the situation of its inhabitants.
Although he did not remain in Casanare, he coordinated with and directed the religious who were assigned to the place for its evangelization. Finally, on 17 July 1893, the Holy See, in agreement with the Colombian government, erected the Apostolic Vicariate of Casanare. On November 25 of the same year, it entrusted its administration to Father Ezekiel Moreno.
The Recollect missionary expressed his “firm conviction to remain in that region until death”; but soon after, he left Casanare. More than a century later, Casanare continues to be one of the seven mission areas of the Augustinian Recollects in the world, and the only one of the Order in Colombia. Thanks to the work of the religious, Casanare is now a more prosperous area where the faith is more present than in the time of Saint Ezekiel Moreno.