Patron of the Black Missions
St. Peter Claver was born at Verdu, Catalonia, Spain, in 1580, of impoverished parents descended from ancient and distinguished families. He studied at the Jesuit College of Barcelona, entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona in 1602, and took final vows on August 8, 1604. While studying Philosophy at Majorca, the young religious was influenced by St. Alphonsus Rodriguez to go to the Indies and save “millions of those perishing souls.”
In 1610, the Saint landed at Cartagena (modern Colombia), the principal slave market of the New World, where a thousand slaves were brought every month. After his ordination in 1616, he dedicated himself to the service of the Black slaves—a work that was to last for thirty-three years. He labored unceasingly for the salvation of the slaves and the abolition of the slave trade, and the love he lavished on them was something that transcended the natural order.
Boarding the slave ship as they entered the harbor, St. Peter would hurry to the revolting inferno of the hold, and offer whatever poor refreshments he could afford. He would care for the sick and dying, and instruct the slaves through Black catechists, before administering the Sacraments. Through his effort three hundred thousand souls entered the Church. Furthermore, he did not lose sight of his converts when they left the ships, but followed them to the plantations to which they were sent, encouraged them to live as Christians, and prevailed on their masters to treat them humanely. He died in 1654 and was canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII.
PRAYER: God of mercy and love, You offer all peoples the dignity of sharing in Your life. By the example and prayers of St. Peter Claver, strengthen us to overcome all racial hatreds and to love each other as brothers and sisters. Amen.