When some people visit a place, they see all the important buildings, monuments and restaurants and then feel they know the area and its people. Something different happened to me. By happy chance, I recently visited Quito, Ecuador and instead of a whirlwind tour of all the sights, I spent most of my time on a single street corner where I feel I came to know the area and its people.
This opportunity presented itself on the occasion of a pilgrimage for the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Success at the cloistered Conceptionist convent next to the Presidential Palace in the city’s historical district.
I offered to help promote a procession around the city center called the “Rosary of the Dawn.” Every year on her feast, February 2, a small statue of Our Lady of Good Success is carried on the streets while the people pray and sing in a very public display of the Faith.
Rosary of the Dawn
In times of Quito’s glorious past, the 5:00 a.m. rosary used to attract thousands. By the end of the twentieth century, however, modernity’s corrosive acids had reduced the participation to a few dozen.
Indeed, the prediction of such decay is a part of the prophecies given during the apparitions which began in 1610. The Blessed Mother told of the extinguishing of the Faith, the spread of heresy and blasphemy, and the decadence of customs and fashions.
However, I am happy to report that the procession has fortunately enjoyed a resurrection due to the effort of several TFP members and other devotees of Our Lady who have encouraged and promoted a return to this public display of the Faith over the last eight years. I enthusiastically joined all those who wanted to make this year’s procession the largest ever.
Observing the Faith on the Street
Thus, I found myself with my broken Spanish on a busy street corner near the San Augustin monastery handing out invitations to the Rosary of the Dawn. At other locations, similar volunteers handed out nearly 95,000 invitations. Some 1,200 posters plastered the city shops and offices. All Quito was abuzz about the coming event.
Although I did find some time to visit some of the colonial churches and monuments that inspire one with awe and devotion, most of my five days before the February 2 feast were spent on a single corner which proved to be a special window to peer into the lives of this people, beloved of God.
Each day was a fascinating scene. In the early morning, there was hardly any movement save workers walking to their jobs or street vendors setting their wares upon the sidewalks. Around mid-morning, the street became busier as school children and shoppers went about their tasks. By afternoon, the street would become a veritable bazaar, as street vendors called out their goods, musicians played their instruments and beggars asked for help. This crowded and noisy sidewalk provided a gradual yet sustained contact with an Ecuador which most do not have the time to see.
I could not but notice how modernity has corroded past tradition. At times, there was the almost surreal feeling that this colonial city was occupied by a foreign people, such was the clash between the city’s charm and the appearances of the crowds. To the superficial observer, the people on the sidewalks could be from anywhere. All were busy talking on their cell phones and wearing their omnipresent jeans. On their shirts could be found written the names of old rock icons such as the Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden or Michael Jackson. These human billboards of our cosmopolitan culture wore on their backs messages like Old Navy, New York Yankees, Hollywood, Sony and Samsung.
All of this seemed a world away — as indeed it is – from the world of Our Lady of Good Success to which I was inviting the crowds to come venerate at a procession to be held at five o’clock in the morning.
However, it did not take long to see that my first impression was not entirely correct. I began to notice remnants of the Faith that survived in our hostile world. One could sense a profound religious sentiment that lay latent as if waiting to be awakened.
For one thing, we were handing out invitations with a beautiful picture of Our Lady of Good Success on the front. I was impressed by the avidity with which the passersby, young and old, took the invitations and even thanked me.
I noticed many crossing themselves as they passed the church. Throughout the day, people entered the church to visit and pray. What shocked me was how even the most unlikely characters would suddenly step into the church to pray a short while or attend Mass. I do not know how many Che Guevara t-shirts I saw go into the church apparently unaware of the contradiction.
On the city street, I saw these remnants of the Faith in so many of the old, deformed and suffering, hobbling along their way. I saw it in the Indian men and women in their beautiful traditional attire and wondered how it was possible that so many exchanged such outfits for the drab jeans and t-shirts that so dominate Quito and everywhere else.
As the day of the procession approached, many people would come up to me with great joy announcing their intention to attend the Rosary of the Dawn to be with the “Virjencita” — the little Virgin Mary.
The morning of February 2 was soon upon us and all the preparations were made. In the early morning hours, we waited to see what would happen.
As the five o’clock hour approached, the people started streaming into the church. Lines of taxis formed outside, letting out passengers who had come from some distance. True to their word on the streets, many devotees were coming to the event which had once been so near to extinction.
The beautiful centuries-old church was soon packed with people. Still others waited outside since there was no room for them as an estimated 6,000 souls came to honor the Mother of God. It was only with great difficulty that the small little statue made its way down the middle of the church to begin its great procession around the town.
To imagine the significance of the procession route, one would have to imagine a procession around the White House and other main buildings in the capital. Our long route would go around the Presidential Palace and through the heart of the central district.
Improvising Amid Exuberance
The atmosphere of the procession was festive with the playing of a brass band and the occasional explosions of fireworks. The small statue was showered with rose petals and many competed to be among those who might carry Our Lady on her litter. Our careful planning often fell victim to Latin exuberance as the unexpected forced us to improvise.
Human waves of people fell upon and almost overwhelmed those who were handing out nearly 8,000 free rosaries. The crowds of people had to be constantly kept moving as they funneled through the old colonial streets. Songs and prayers had to be kept unified over a large distance. All wanted to be near the statue and it was often hard to force the way through the crowd.
This exuberant atmosphere was one of great joy and grace. Those crowds that seemed cosmopolitan on the street now fit in so well with the colonial setting despite their modern dress. With full lungs, they sang with touching tenderness:
God of all love, Holy Eucharist,
Look upon the people of Thy Heart
All is Thine as we had sworn one day to Thee
All is Thine. Save Ecuador!
It was dawn when the procession finally wound its way through the Central Plaza to return to the church that quickly filled to capacity. The little “Virjencita” had led us out of the night and into the dawn. She now forced her way to the altar amid her devotees who wanted to touch and honor her. Father Jonathan Romanoski F.S.S.P. gave the final blessing and then went with difficulty through the pressing crowd blessing them with holy water.
Up on the high altar, the life-size statue of Our Lady of Good Success reigned. No other verb can express the regal, queen-like attitude of this extraordinary statue. One sensed that she had truly reigned on this special morning. She was the unquestionable queen of so many hearts there present.
However, she offered to be queen of those hearts not just during the Rosary of the Dawn but always. And the sadness that I noted on the face of Our Lady of Good Success seemed to communicate something of her disappointment that most in the modern world seek other interests.
Indeed, on the busy city streets where I handed out invitations, I had found many of her devotees. But there were also those who were seeking after success in life and business. Our Lady invites us not to success but to “good success.” Good success means that greatest of all accomplishments: the salvation of our souls. It was this good success that she so briefly showed us in the procession.
Thus ended the Rosary of the Dawn. One might ask if it was but a fleeting moment of grace that was experienced and would fade away. I would beg to disagree. For all those who attended this event, it was an unforgettable moment that marked the soul. Indeed, there was in the festive joy of that occasion the promise of another dawn – the dawn of Our Lady’s reign.
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To read more about the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Success and the life of Mother Mariana of Jesus Torres y Berriochoa, click here.