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The Catholic Defender: Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo



Together with Rose of Lima, Turibius is the first known saint of the New World, serving the Lord in Peru, South America, for 26 years.


Catholics in Latin America and throughout the world will celebrate the life and ministry of St. Turibius of Mogrovejo on March 23. The 16th century bishop upheld the rights of Peru's indigenous peoples, and became one of the first canonized saints of the Americas.


Turibius was born in Spain during 1538, to a noble family in the kingdom of Leon. He frequently prayed, fasted, and gave to the poor even as a child, and eventually developed the daily habit of praying the Rosary along with the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


To the indigenous Peruvians, the archbishop was a herald of the Gospel who held their lives as more precious than their country's supplies of gold and silver. But to the many colonists whose behavior showed no sign of their Catholic origins, he was a prophetic scourge – whose efforts to awaken the public conscience earned him rebukes and opposition.


Born in Spain and educated for the law, he became so brilliant a scholar that he was made professor of law at the University of Salamanca and eventually became chief judge of the Inquisition at Granada. He succeeded too well. But he was not sharp enough a lawyer to prevent a surprising sequence of events.


When the archdiocese of Lima in Peru required a new leader, Turibius was chosen to fill the post: He was the one person with the strength of character and holiness of spirit to heal the scandals that had infected that area.


He cited all the canons that forbade giving laymen ecclesiastical dignities, but he was overruled. Turibius was ordained priest and bishop and sent to Peru, where he found colonialism at its worst. The Spanish conquerors were guilty of every sort of oppression of the native population. Abuses among the clergy were flagrant, and he devoted his energies and suffering to this area first.


He began the long and arduous visitation of an immense archdiocese, studying the language, staying two or three days in each place, often with neither bed nor food.


Turibius confessed every morning to his chaplain, and celebrated Mass with intense fervor.


Among those to whom he gave the Sacrament of Confirmation was the future Saint Rose of Lima, and possibly the future Saint Martin de Porres. After 1590, he had the help of another great missionary, Francis Solanus, now also a saint.


Turibius ultimately managed to make three visitations of his diocese, under rugged and dangerous conditions, which occupied about half of his 25 years as Archbishop of Lima. He united the Peruvian Church at an administrative level by holding several local councils of its clergy, but was also known to spend days traveling to reach a single individual with the message of Christ.


The archbishop became seriously ill in 1606. He sensed that his death was imminent, and decreed that his possessions should be distributed to the poor. St. Turibius died on March 23, and his body was found to be incorrupt the next year. He was declared a saint in 1726, and is now regarded as the patron of native peoples' rights and Latin American bishops.


Though very poor his people were sensitive, dreading to accept public charity from others. Turibius solved the problem by helping them anonymously.


The Lord indeed writes straight with crooked lines. Against his will, and from the unlikely springboard of an Inquisition tribunal, this man became the Christlike shepherd of a poor and oppressed people. God gave him the gift of loving others as they needed it.

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