Talk to a missionary who has spent time in Latin America, and
the name of Turibius of Mogrovejo is immediately familiar. Mention him to a
native of Peru and you get a proud smile and a vigorous nod. Ask a scholar or
a Church-savvy librarian and you may find some signs of recognition. Beyond
that, you risk vacant stares.
The man who was appointed archbishop of Lima even before he was ordained a
priest, who embraced his gigantic archdiocese and its primarily
Indian population, who broke new ground in the way he lived
among his people, who corrected abuses and instituted reforms—that
man deserves to be better known. And appreciated. And imitated.
Parents may not clamor to name their newborns Turibius
(Toribio in Spanish), but they could find no better
model of holiness, devotion, love, sensitivity, vision and
Born into a wealthy family in Mogrovejo, Spain, in 1538, young Turibius studied
Church and civil law and later taught at the University of
Salamanca. In 1571, King Philip II appointed him chief judge
of the Church court of the Inquisition at Granada. In his
work on the court, Turibius gained a reputation for moderation
and sensitivity. Those were among the qualities that made
him a candidate to become the second archbishop of Lima when
a vacancy occurred.
At first, Turibius declined the important post—protesting that,
as a layman, he was not worthy. When Rome insisted it had the right man, he
In May of 1581 Turibius arrived in Peru by boat. Only 42, he had been assigned
to one of the most distant and difficult posts in the Spanish
empire. His enormous diocese of 18,000 square miles has become
19 dioceses today!
The energetic young priest-bishop leapt into his new life and work
with confidence and vigor. One of his first acts was to begin a visitation of
his diocese—a task that took seven years! Picture a man traveling on foot and
by mule, living with the Indians, eating as they ate, sleeping on the ground.
If Turibius could preach the faith among the Indians, no village
was too small or unimportant. His office duties in Lima just had to wait (an
attitude that often frustrated his clergy).
Breaking New Ground
The Indians had been dismissed as inferior by their Spanish conquerors, who
had arrived in Lima only 50 years before. Until Turibius insisted,
few clergy even considered addressing the native population
in their various languages.
No wonder Pope John Paul II named him, in 1983, patron of the bishops
of Latin America and called him “a genuine example of a pastor whom we can and
must imitate in the task of the new evangelization.”
The Third Council of Lima, which Turibius convened in the early
1580s, put an end to abuse of the indigenous population. The council produced
a catechism for use among the Indians, revolutionary in the use of the dominant
Quechua and Aymara languages, as well as Spanish. The council also focused on
reform of the clergy. Neither initiative pleased the lax clergy, who were often
at odds with their holy bishop.
When he died in 1606 on March 23, Turibius was—no surprise—in the
midst of an extended visit among his people. His canonization 120 years later
testified to his pastoral devotion.
Next month: St. Stanislaus (1030-1079)