September 8th : St Peter Claver, SJ

St Peter Claver, SJ

Born : June 26, 1580
Died: Sept. 8, 1654
Beatified: July 16,1850
Canonized: January 15,1888

St Peter Claver was born in Catalonia, Spain, and the youngest of 4 children of a well-to-do country farmer. At 13, Peter already decided to become a priest. At 16, he went to Barcelona to study at the university where he became acquainted with the Jesuits, and wanted to become one of them. Whilst doing Philosophy at Montesion College, in Palma, he befriended Br.Alphonsus Rodriguez, who was known for his holiness and excellence as a spiritual guide. It was Alphonsus who encouraged Peter to go to the New World to gather souls for Christ.

In 1610, the future saint of the slave trade, together with 3 Jesuit priests, left Spain for Cartagena in the Caribbean (present-day Columbia). After completing his Theology at the Jesuit College in Bogota in 1615, he returned to Cartagena to begin work amongst the slaves. At 36, in 1616, he became the first Jesuit to be ordained in Cartagena.

Cartagena was a prosperous port with an excellent harbour and the slave-trade thrived with 10,000 slaves passing through the port annually. Fr Claver would personally be at the dock when each ship arrived, armed with a basket of food and interpreters. He would then go below to minister to the sick and dying, and despite the stench, stayed until he had attended to all the dying and the sick. Fr Claver visited them daily with food and cared for the sick. Through interpreters, he instructed them in the Faith as he knew that they would be sold and taken to other cities. To meet this exigency, his instructions were necessarily brief and he conferred baptism sooner than was the custom, baptizing more than 300,000 slaves before his death.

For more than 35 years, Fr Claver worked relentlessly, showing boundless compassion for abandoned people and called himself, the slave of the black slaves for all time. He put into practice the words of Br Alphonsus: “Look for God in all men and serve them as images of Him”.

When the plague swept through Cartegena and its surroundings, Fr Claver went to work among those afflicted and eventually succumbed to it .The Jesuits hired a former slave to care for Fr Claver. Unfortunately this man abused and mistreated him, for 4 years without anyone knowing because Fr Claver never complained. At his death-bed, the Categenians, both free and slaves flocked to his room in great numbers to see him for the last time. In their desire for mementos of the holy man, they stripped the room of everything except for the bed-clothes. The slaves chanted, “Our best friend is dead.”

Fr Claver died on the feast of Our Lady of the Nativity. He was canonized in 1888 together with his mentor, Alphonsus Rodriguez, who had urged him to go to the New World to be a saint .