April 11th: Venerable Francis del Castillo, SJ

April 11th - Venerable Francis del Castillo, SJ

Born : February 9, 1615
Died : April 11, 1673

Fr Francis del Castillo, revered by the people of Lima, Peru as the “Apostle of Lima” was born in Lima on February 9, 1615. He entered the Society of Jesus toward the end of 1632. He taught grammar to the young boys at the St Paul’s College in Lima for a while after completing his philosophy and before he went on for his theological studies. After his ordination in 1642, Fr Castillo’s desire was to work among the native peoples of Peru or Paraguay but because his superior feared that the hardships and the privations of missionary life would be detrimental to his already weak health, he was assigned to teach grammar at the college in Callao. However he was included as a chaplain when the Marquis de Mancera, viceroy of Peru led an expedition to confront the Dutch pirates off the coast of Valdivia, Chile for six months. Upon successful return, Fr Castillo returned to his teaching job at the Lima college.

Fr Castillo started his special apostolate preaching at the market square in Baratillo in 1648 which was always crowded with thousands of people every Sunday, buying and selling their wares. One Sunday, Fr Castillo felt inspired to preach to them and so standing on top of a borrowed table, he called the people towards him and began to preach on the same theme that St John the Baptist had used when he began his ministry, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near at hand.” Encouraged by the positive response and interest of the people, he decided to do it again and within weeks, Fr Castillo’s Sunday sermon at the market square became a regular event. It continued for the next twenty-five years. Soon he had a permanent pulpit which some artisans erected for him as his sermons became an integral part of the Sunday market. He would systematically go through the topics of the catechism, inspiring his listeners to live according to Christian values and principles, to frequent the Sacraments and to live good moral lives. His sermons were neither polished nor filled with rhetoric but he spoke with great sincerity and touched everyone’s heart.

Fr Castillo, when he preached, would hold on to a large cross which had a picture of Our Lady at the bottom. He would lead them to the nearby chapel of Our Lady after the sermon and prayed with them in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Because Fr Castillo made use of the chapel so often it was later transferred to the care of the Jesuits and Fr Castillo made it the centre of his apostolate activity.

Like Fr Peter Claver, Fr Castillo had a special love for the blacks and the Indians of Lima. He would be with the blacks each morning when they gathered in the square to hire themselves out for the day’s labour, instructing them and preparing them for baptism and giving them hope. Likewise he would take an interest in the native peoples’ spiritual needs, encouraging them in their faith, trying to integrate them into Lima’s community.

He organized his church members into sodalities which met for prayers and meetings regularly. Some sodalities also met weekly for sermons and meditations. These members were later assigned to the different cities throughout the Lima diocese, taking with them these principles and helped plant Christianity in the new settlements. Fr Castillo also organized a school for the city’s poor boys and a hospice for wayward girls to rehabilitate.

Fr Castillo was an early social reformer and became the father to the poor and needy because of his deep charity and love for all human beings. He died at St Paul’s College in Lima on April 11, 1673 at the age of fifty-eight and served tirelessly as a Jesuit for forty-one years. His cause was introduced in Rome on September 22, 1741.