SAINT PETER CLAVER (1580-1654), missionary priest
Patron saint of all missions among peoples of African descent, inter-racial justice, Colombia in South America, the Dioceses of Shreveport, Louisiana
and Lake Charles, Louisiana,
and he is also the patron saint against slavery
Today, the Church honors Saint Peter Claver, a Jesuit missionary priest in Colombia, South America, who worked tirelessly to evangelize and care for Africans who were being sold as slaves. Though he could not put an end to slavery, he baptized and ministered the Sacraments to over 300,000 African peoples.
The son of a Catalonian farmer, Peter was born at Verdu, Spain in 1580. He obtained his first degrees at the University of Barcelona; and, at the age of twenty, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona in southern Spain. It was there that Peter met Alphonsus Rodriguez, the saintly door-keeper of the college, who befriended and persuaded him to set out for the Americas to spread the Word of God in the missions.
He arrived in Cartageña, Colombia in 1610, completed his formation and was ordained to the priesthood in 1616. He worked among the African slaves for 44 years from the moment he arrived at the port – as Father Claver would later declare about himself and his ministry as being “the slave of the Negroes forever”, embracing complete humility so that he could live the virtue of absolute charity.
By the time Peter had arrived in Colombia, the slave trade had been established in the Americas for nearly 100 years, and Cartageña was a major port through which slaves from Africa were sold into the New World. About one thousand slaves poured into the port each month after crossing the Atlantic from West Africa, under conditions so foul and inhuman that an estimated one-third of the passengers died in transit. Although the practice of slave-trading was condemned and labeled “supreme villainy” by various popes, the evils and wickedness of slavery continued to flourish.
Father Claver ministered to the victims of this evil with heroic commitment, caring for each of the African slaves who arrived on the ships and who were suffering from the trauma of the voyage they had just completed, and trembling with fear for what lay ahead. As a Jesuit priest and minister of God, he defended them, showed them kindness, cared for them in sickness and won their confidence, almost always incurring the opposition and anger of the slave-traders and representatives of the local government.
During his 44 years in missionary work, he trained interpreters as catechists in order to teach the faith to the slaves in their many different tongues. And until his death, he baptized and ministered the Sacraments to over 300,000 African peoples. He was quoted as once saying, “To love God as He ought to be loved, we must be detached from all temporal love. We must love nothing but Him, or if we love anything else, we must love it only for His sake.”
His apostolate extended even beyond his care for slaves. He became a moral force; indeed, he became the apostle of Cartageña! He preached in the city square, gave missions to sailors and traders as well as in-country missions, during which he avoided, whenever possible, the hospitality of the planters and owners who were lodged in the slave quarters, forcing many of the African peoples to endure the outside elements.
After four years of sickness, which forced Father Claver to remain inactive and largely neglected, he died on September 8, 1654. The city magistrates, who had previously frowned at his considerable concern for the African slaves, ordered that he should be buried at public expense and with great ceremonial recognition.
Father Peter Claver was canonized a saint by Pope Leo XIII on January 15, 1888, and, in 1896, the same pope proclaimed him Patron of all the Catholic missions among peoples of African descent. His remains are interred under the Altar in the Saint Peter Claver Church and Monastery in Cartageña, Colombia.
We commemorate his feastday on September 9.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Peter Claver)
“God of Mercy and Love, You offer all peoples the dignity of sharing in Your life. By the example and prayers of Saint Peter Claver, strengthen us to overcome all racial hatreds and to love each other as brothers and sisters.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”