Acta Sanctorum: St. Toribio of Mongrovejo (Mar 23)
March 23, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.


March 23
St. Toribio of Mongrovejo
Life (1538-1606)

So far, I believe, only four bishops of the Western Hemisphere have been canonized as saints. The earliest of these was archbishop of Lima, Peru, from 1579 to 1606. St. Toribio Alfonso de Mogrovejo, a native of Spain, set a splendid apostolic example to all the future bishops of the Americas.

Toribio was the child of a noble Spanish family. He made a brilliant course in civil and canon law at the University of Salamanca, and then joined that university’s faculty. Taking note of Toribio’s legal talent, King Philip II of Spain named him chief judge of the ecclesiastical court of Inquisition at Salamanca. Usually that post was occupied by a bishop. Toribio was a cleric, but had received no holy orders. Even so, he proved to be an admirable judge, winning acclaim for both his skill and his moderation.

In 1568, the Spanish Council of the Indies, which had charge under the kings of Spain of supervising Spain’s transatlantic domains, decided that their colonies were badly in need of reform. Philip nominated Toribio to the pope as the new archbishop of Lima in Peru. The professor/judge tried to decline the honor because he was not in holy orders. But his plea was overruled. He was given all the clerical orders in quick succession, and consecrated a bishop in 1580. The new prelate then set out with his sister and her family on the long and dangerous ocean journey to Peru. After making the last 600 miles of the trip overland on foot, the archbishop was installed in Lima on May 11, 1581.

Once the jurist-archbishop had made the first of his arduous pastoral visits of the archdiocese, he convoked the Third Council of Lima in 1583. Through this and subsequent synods, he worked to apply the reform decrees of the Council of Trent.

It was not easy to achieve reform. Many of the clergy justified their abusive practices as “local custom.” The archbishop reminded them: “Christ said, ‘I am the truth.’ He did not say, ‘I am the custom.’” In connection with his reforms, Toribio also established the first seminary for priests in the new world (Lima, 1591).

Archbishop Mogrovejo was not the sort of bishop who just sat at home and issued laws. He devoted as much time as possible to covering on visitation the 18,000 miles of his archdiocese. “Time is not our own,” he would say, “and we must give a strict account of it.” To prepare himself as a preacher he diligently studied the many languages spoken by the Indians. He performed his visitations mostly on foot, often under great hardships and at risk of life. Even when traveling, however, he never failed to offer Mass daily and go to confession daily to his chaplain-companion. As a follow-up of these journeys, he constructed roads across the wilderness, and set up churches, schools, convents and hospitals.

Archbishop de Mogrovejo was also solicitous of the poor, both the Native Americans and the Spanish. Some of the proud but impoverished Spaniards would have refused to accept charity. Toribio saw to it that they were helped secretly without knowing their benefactor.

Like his contemporary, St. Charles Borromeo, the reforming bishop of Milan, St. Toribio did succeed in large part in improving the quality of faith in Peru. A valuable assistant was the great Franciscan preacher, St. Francis Solano. Saints also sprang up in his garden. Among the 500,000 he personally confirmed was St. Rose of Lima, and probably also the two Dominicans, St. Martin de Porres and St. John Massias.

When Toribio died, aged 68, he left his estate to his servants and to the poor. He had established legal precedents that would benefit not only Latin America but even the future United States. Along with St. Rose of Lima, he had exemplified Spanish America at its Catholic noblest and best.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture. 2 Timothy 1: 13-14;2:1-3
Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit
who dwells within us.
My child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
And what you heard from me through many witnesses
entrust to faithful people
who will have the ability to teach others as well.
Bear your share of hardship along with me
like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

(Year B). For [Sainty Turibius], there could be no evangelization without charity. He knew that the supreme form of evangelization is to model in our own lives the self-giving of Jesus Christ, out of love for every man and woman. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not practise justice are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters (cf. 1 Jn 3:10). In his visits, he was able to see the abuses and excesses that the original peoples had suffered, and thus he was unafraid, in 1585, to excommunicate the Corregidor of Cajatambo, setting himself against a whole system of corruption and a web of interests which “drew upon him the enmity of many”, including the Viceroy.  Such, we see, is the pastor who knows that spiritual good can never be separated from just material good, and all the more so when the integrity and dignity of persons is at risk. An episcopal spirit of prophecy unafraid of denouncing abuses and excesses committed against our people. In this way, Turibius reminds society as a whole, and each community, that charity must always be accompanied by justice. And that there can be no authentic evangelization that does not point out and denounce every sin against the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially against the lives of those who are most vulnerable. This is a warning against any attempt to flirt with the world; it only ties our hands, only to receive a few crumbs in return.

He wanted to get to the other shore in the formation of his priests. He founded the first post-Tridentine seminary in this part of the world, thus encouraging the training of the native clergy. He realized that it was not enough to visit everywhere and to speak the same language: the Church needed to raise up her own local pastors and thus become a fruitful mother. To this end, he defended the ordination of the mestizos – a controversial issue at that time – and sought to make others see that if the clergy needed to be different in any area, it had to be by virtue of their holiness and not their racial origin.  This formation was not limited to seminary studies, but continued through the constant visits that he undertook. He was close to his priests. With his visits, he was able to see firsthand the “state of his priests” and to show his concern for them. The story goes that on Christmas Eve his sister gave him a shirt that he could wear for the holidays. That same day he went to visit a priest and, seeing his living conditions, took off the shirt and gave it to him.  He was a pastor who knew his priests. A pastor who tried to visit them, to accompany them, to encourage them and to admonish them. He reminded his priests that they were pastors and not shopkeepers, and so they had to care for and defend the indios as their children.  Yet he did not do this from a desk, and so he knew his sheep and they recognized, in his voice, the voice of the good shepherd.

He wanted to get to the other shore of unity. In an admirable and prophetic way, he worked to open up possibilities for communion and participation among the different members of God’s people. Saint John Paul II mentioned this when speaking to the bishops in these lands. He noted that: “The Third Council of Lima was the result of that effort, guided, encouraged and directed by Saint Turibius; it bore fruit in a wealth of unity in faith, pastoral and organizational norms, and useful insights for the desired integration of Latin America”.  We know very well that this unity and consensus emerged from great tensions and conflicts. We cannot deny tensions and the differences: they exist, and life is not possible without conflict. Yet they require us, if we are men and Christians, to face them and to deal with them. But to deal with them in a spirit of unity, in honest and sincere dialogue, face to face, taking care not to fall into temptation to ignore the past, or to remain prisoners, lacking the vision to discern paths of unity and peace. It is a source of encouragement, in our journey as an episcopal conference, to know that unity will always prevail over conflict.  

The moment came for Saint Turibius to get to the final shore, to the land of which he had a foretaste on every shore he left. This time, however, he did not leave alone. As in the picture I spoke of previously, he went to meet the saints surrounded by a great crowd. He was a pastor who packed “his bags” with names and faces. They were his passport to heaven. I would not like to pass over this final chord, the moment when the shepherd surrendered his soul to God. He did so in a hut, the midst of his people, while a native played a song on his chirimía so that the soul of his pastor would feel at peace. Brothers, would that when we undertake our final journey, we might have this same experience. Let us ask the Lord to grant this to us. (Pope Francis)

Musical Selection
A santo Toribio,
excelso Pastor,
cantemos con júbilo
un himno de amor.
Lord God,
you have given life and growth to your Church
through the zeal for truth and the apostolic labours
of your bishop Toribio;
grant that your holy people may continually grow
in sanctity and in faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen. (ICEL; 1998)