One of the first saints of the New World, the Spanish bishop St. Turibius of Mongrovejo (1538-1606) was born in Mayorga, Spain, and educated as a lawyer. He was such a brilliant scholar that he became professor of law at the University of Salamanca.
In 1580 the archbishopric of Lima, capital of Spain’s colony in Peru, became vacant. Religious and political leaders agreed that Turibius’ holiness made him the ideal choice for this position, even though he protested that, as a layman, he was ineligible. Turibius’ protests were overruled; he was ordained a priest and bishop, and then sent to Peru.
The diocese of Lima was geographically isolated and morally lax. Turibius made three visitations of the entire diocese (the first of these lasted seven years), staying several days in each community and enduring hardships without complaint. Turibius made a point of learning the Indians’ languages; this helped him teach and minister to his people, and also made him a very successful missionary. As bishop, he denounced exploitation of the Indians by Spanish nobles and even clergy; he imposed many reforms in spite of considerable opposition.
Turibius organized a seminary in 1591 — the first in the Western hemisphere — and his pastoral example inspired reforms in other dioceses under Spanish administration. He was assisted by St. Francis Solanus and by his friend St. Rose of Lima, and served as Archbishop of Lima for twenty-six years, dying in 1606.
1. True holiness will often require a willingness to upset the status quo. When St. Turibius observed exploitation of the Indians and other abuses, he sided with them, not with his Spanish countrymen, and — in spite of opposition and resentment — insisted that they be treated fairly.
2. If we are to share the gospel with others, we first need to have some willingness to understand and accept them as persons valuable in and of themselves. St. Turibius demonstrated this by learning the Indians’ languages; we can show this respect for others by taking the time to listen to them (instead of coming across as all-knowing missionaries who have nothing to learn from others).