Saints for Our Times: On foot, St. Turibius brought the faith to South America

By Mary Lou Gibson

Turibius of Mogrovejo had pretty much settled into his life as a law professor at Salamanca University in Spain in the late 16th century. He had also acted as counselor to the Inquisition in Granada when he came to the attention of King Philip II.
When the first archbishop of Lima (Jerónimo de Loaiza) died, Philip chose Turibius to succeed him. Paul Burns writes in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” that this was somewhat of a problem because Turibius was a layman. He had to quickly become a deacon and then go through ordination and consecration.
At this time Lima was the headquarters of the metropolitan see and had jurisdiction over the whole of Spanish South America. It was not an easy place to be. Editor Bernard Bangley describes 16th century Lima in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” as geographically isolated and morally lax. Travel was extremely difficult and the behavior of the Spanish conquerors toward the native population was atrocious.
Turibius was 42 when he landed in Piura in 1581 and set out to walk the 285 miles to Lima. Rosemary Guiley writes in the “Encyclopedia of Saints” that the archdiocese covered some 18,000 square miles, encompassing the present countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and a portion of Argentina. It is a tribute to Turibius that he traveled this vast territory three times during his tenure as archbishop. 
According to Richard McBrien writing in “Lives of the Saints,” it took Turibius seven years to complete his first visitation of his diocese. He offered Mass daily even when on a journey where he might not have food or a bed.
Turibius’s first official event was to hold a Council of Lima. The most important measures passed during the council concerned the pastoral care of the Indians. Their first language was Aymara or Quechua. Turibius wanted all the parish priests to learn the appropriate local language. He himself learned Quechua and studied other Indian dialects so that he could address the people in their own language. This brought him much success in making conversions.
Another important outcome of the council and perhaps its greatest achievement was the publication in 1542 of a catechism in Aymara and Quechua as well as in Spanish.
When not traveling, Turibius was immersed with the problems in Lima which included competing claims of civil and ecclesiastical powers. He tried to resolve matters through a series of synods and had only some limited success. 
He fought injustice and vice, among the clergy as well as laymen. Editor Michael Walsh writes in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” that the clergy themselves were often among the most notorious offenders toward the native population. It was the first care of Turibius to restore ecclesiastical discipline and to make uniform the rites for sacraments and native practices. He also made it possible for Indians to be admitted to minor orders.
Turibius founded numerous churches, schools and hospitals and opened the first seminary in the New World in 1591.
Turibius died on Holy Thursday in 1606 in Saña. It took almost a year for his body to be carried back to Lima where it arrived in a remarkable state of preservation, as if he had only recently died.
According to Burns, Turibius baptized and confirmed about half a million people, including South America’s best known saints – Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres. 
He was beatified in 1679 by Pope Innocent XI and canonized in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. In 1983 St. John Paul II proclaimed Turibius the patron of Latin American bishops and set his feast day on March 23. He is the patron saint of Peru, where he is celebrated on April 27.