Ecuador was the first nation in the world to be officially consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by its political authorities. The consecration was made by Catholic president Gabriel García Moreno in 1874.
After his re-election for a third term, he was assassinated in 1875 by a machete-wielding group of freemasons enraged by the consecration of the nation to the Sacred Heart. Garcia Moreno remains a controversial figure in Ecuador's history. For practicing Catholics, he is a martyr of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; for many others, he is the example of a fanatic politician who did not respect the separation between church and state.
Pope Francis disregarded the controversy to highlight an episode of Ecuadorean Catholic history that even the local bishops prefer not to mention.
And those were not the only words that could have enraged those who believe that Latin America needs to be more "secular" and less "Catholic."
"We have come from different places, regions, towns, to celebrate the presence of God among us. We left our homes and communities hours ago so that we can be together, as the Holy People of God. The cross bring to us the memory of all the communities born in the name of Jesus in this land, of which we are heirs," Francis said in Bolivia, reaffirming the nation's Catholic identity.
He would also say to the inmates of Palmasola, one of the most dangerous prisons in South America, regarding his presence among them: "Who is before you? I would like to answer this question with a certitude of life, a certitude that has branded me for life. A man that was and is saved from his many sins. And thus I introduce myself. I don't have much to offer you, but what I have and love I give you: Jesus Christ."
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And on the public presence of the image of the Virgin Mary in Latin America he said at the Paraguayan Marian shrine of Caacupé: "María is and has been in our hospitals, in our schools, in our homes. She has been and is in our working places and our roads. Has been and is in at the table in our homes. Has been and is in the formation of our country, making us a Nation. She is in the glance of an image, a tiny holy card or a medal. And under the sign if the Rosary, we know that we are not alone, that She is with us."
And thus expressed his vision of Christian communities during the Mass at Ñu Guasú: "How beautiful it is to imagine our parishes, communities and chapels where Christians are together, not with closed doors but as true places of encounter with other human beings and with God."
Pope Francis also translated to the youth in Paraguay a page of classic Jesuit spirituality: "San Ignatius says that the devil, in order to recruit players for his team, promises honor, glory and power. He promises that you will be famous… but the devil is a 'smoke-seller.'"