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By Judy Ball

Catholic saints are holy people and human people who lived extraordinary lives. Each saint the Church honors responded to God's invitation to use his or her unique gifts. God calls each one of us to be a saint.

Bishop of Peru Reformed and Evangelized



‘Unworthy’ Choice
Breaking New Ground
Historical Background


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 courage.

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.

‘Unworthy’ Choice

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 acquiesced.

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)


Historical Background

Fifty years before Turibius of Mogrovejo landed in Peru, the newly arrived Spanish conquerors, led by Francisco Pizarro, set out to establish colonial rule. Responsibility for evangelization was entrusted to missionaries, many of whom were utterly unfamiliar with native languages and saw the Indians as inherently inferior. Rapid conversions were valued more highly than true catechesis.

Although the Third Council of Lima introduced significant reforms, Indians still had a second-class status. They were still not permitted ordination to the priesthood, but they served as cantors, sacristans and catechists. In addition, they were welcomed to receive the Eucharist more regularly—once allowed only on special occasions such as Eastertide.

Judy Ball is managing editor of Every Day Catholic, a monthly newsletter. She edits the print and audio Saint of the Day segments on the Web site listed below.

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