Steadfast Saint Turibius

Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo (+1606) is a model for bishops everywhere, and not just for the ordained, but for all priests and laity whom he led in the early days of the diocese of Lima, Peru, from 1579 until his death.

Born in 1538 in the Valladolid province of Spain, Turibius, named after an early martyr, grew into a truly noble and well-educated layman, immersed in the Catholic liberal arts; his virtue and zeal were recognized by the King of Spain, who appointed him Grand Inquisitor – before that title was usurped in a memorable but rather unfortunate description by Dostoyevsky – then bishop of the new and vast diocese of Lima in the New World. Turibius tried to resist, but consented to being rushed through the minor orders, then ordained in 1578, before his departure across the stormy South Atlantic to the shores of Peru.

The tenor of his episcopacy was evident as soon as he set foot in Patita, on May 12, 1581, as he commenced to walk the 600 miles to Lima – yes, by foot, over a wild and uncultivated land without much semblance of a ‘road system. Over the years of his energetic apostolate, he would visit his vast diocese several more times, covering thousands of miles the same way – no limos, jets, hotel rooms, plush carpets and fancy restaurants for this humble spiritual soldier, who seemed an implacable force of divine energy. His favourite saying, which we all should ponder in our era saturated in media-and-easy-entertainment – and I am thinking here for some reason of the ubiquitous video-game addicted male – was ‘time is not our own, and we must give a strict account of it’. Hmm.

Turibius truly ‘cared’ for his flock, correcting his priests, ensuring the recently promulgated Missal of Pius V – the Council of Trent had just wrapped up in 1563 -was in use in each parish, the vessels and vestments clean and in good order, and that his priests were living truly orthodox and orthoprax lives, for the state of the clergy was not what it should have been. We could use a few more bishops like Saint Turibius.

After a quarter of a century of undefatigable work, he predicted the day of his death, dragging himself to receive the last rites, and offering his soul to God on this day, March 23rd, Holy Thursday, 1606. His reputation for sanctity was immediate, and has never been forgotten. Canonized in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII, Pope Saint John Paul II – who served as Pope about the same length of time our saint was a bishop – declared Turibius the patron of the Latin American episcopate in 1983. A good day to intercede for our current Pontiff in our own time of crisis, the first Pope from the ‘New World’, that the zeal, discipline and clear doctrine which Turibius helped hand on and maintain may shine once again not just in South America, but throughout the universal Church.