St. Peter Claver’s heroism in his day inspires us to act heroically for souls in need . . .
Feast Day: September 9
Canonized: January 15, 1888
God’s answer to every crisis in human history is to send us saints. Peter Claver’s life coincides with the rise of slave trade in the West, and God used him to send a powerful message of hope and human dignity.
Claver was a young Jesuit novice in Spain when the doorkeeper of his college — the future St. Alphonsus Rodriguez — urged him to go to the Americas to serve the poor. Claver heard God speaking through his friend, so he set sail for Cartagena, Columbia, in 1610.
The booming farming and gold mining industries had ignited the slave trade. Many missionaries and even the pope condemned the slave trade, but their voices were drowned out by profits. Despite the loss of up to half of their human “cargo” due to unsanitary conditions on slave ships, business was still enormously profitable. Slaves were sold for up to 100 times the amount they had been purchased for in Africa.
Claver sent a powerful, counter-cultural message to the people of his day by proclaiming himself “the slave of negroes forever.” As slave ships arrived, full of half-mad people ripped from their homelands who had sat in a sea of death for months, he ran out to them with food, drink and the best gifts he could offer. Ever devoted to their service, he said: “We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips.”
Working with translators, he preached the Gospel to the slaves and defended them from injustice whenever possible. He taught and baptized approximately 300,000 slaves before his death. Like so many saints of charity, St. Peter Claver bore heroic witness to the truth that the “worth” of each human life cannot be measured by monetary sums. Our worth is revealed on the cross and in the Eucharist.
This column is produced for Legatus by the Dead Theologians Society, a Catholic apostolate for high school age teens and college age young adults. On the web: deadtheologianssociety.com