Saint Toribio Alfonso de Mogrevejo

A Saint's Tale
March 21, 1999
Brother John Raymond

Fast travel has become almost second nature to us. Saint Toribio Alfonso de Mogrevejo, Archbishop of Lima, Peru, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries had an enormous diocese of 18,000 square-miles and no car or plane with which to travel. His first diocesan visitation took him seven years of traveling on foot and muleback through jungles and mountain ranges, living in poverty with the people he served, sleeping on the ground and going without food, receiving insults and even attacks by some of the people he was trying to help. At that time his diocese comprised the greater portion of the South American continent. It is estimated that he traveled 15,000 miles as bishop. Due partly to this, he has been proclaimed Patron of the Bishops of Latin America. He died during the third visitation of his diocese - no wonder after covering so many miles!

When I was looking at a tourist guide to Peru on the Internet it recommended visiting the Pozo de Yanayacu (Well of Yanayacu) Saint Toribio built it. The well is located on the Luya Urco hill, a natural watch point. Tradition has turned it into a place of legends and a love fountain.

Who was Saint Toribio? He was born in Mayorga, León, Spain, on November 16, 1538. He became a professor of law at the University of Salamanca. In 1571, although still a layman, King Philip II appointed him the chief judge of the ecclesiastical court of the Inquisition at Granada.

In 1580 when an archbishop was needed in Peru, Toribio was selected. He did not want the office and he used his knowledge of Church law to contest it. He was overruled, gave in and was ordained priest and consecrated bishop. He arrived in Lima, Peru, on May 24, 1581 at the age of forty-two.

Archbishop Toribio immediately became unpopular with Spanish authorities who abused the native Indian population, called Quechuans, because he defended their rights. Also he soon discovered that many of the baptized Indians knew little or nothing about Christianity. He spent the rest of his life studying the Quechua dialects so he could communicate the Faith to them.

Archbishop Toribio baptized and confirmed nearly a million souls. Among his flock were Saint Rose of Lima, whom he befriended and confirmed, Saint Francis Solanus, Saint Martin de Porres and Saint John Massias. He founded the first seminary in the Americas as well as schools, churches and religious houses. For obvious reasons, he pushed for the building of roads throughout Peru! His favorite topic when preaching was: "Time is not our own and we must give a strict accounting of it."

On his third diocesan visitation, Archbishop Toribio fell ill with a fever at Pacasmayo but kept going. He arrived at Sana in a dying condition. He dragged himself to the sanctuary and there received viaticum, dying almost immediately after. He left his belongings to his servants and the rest of his property to the poor.

St. Toribio was added to the Church's universal calendar on March 23. He was selected because he was a pioneering missionary, reforming bishop and a representative of South America. In art, Saint Toribio is portrayed as a bishop kneeling on the altar steps surrounded by angels.

It is interesting that this layman who was reluctant to become bishop accomplished so much. It brought to my mind other men with a similar attitude who did great things for the Church like St. Anselm and St. Augustine. This is a lesson for us that God speaks to us through His Church. None of these men would probably be remembered today if they had followed their own inclinations. Fortunately, in faith they submitted to the call of God through His Church. May we, in faith, follow their example.