Saint Peter Claver, Priest

Today’s gospel reading urges us to think outside the box, religiously speaking.  We are urged to reach out in love to those in need, to bind up their wounds and cooperate in God’s healing mission, no matter what day it is, because love is what’s most important.  This was a call that Saint Peter Claver took very seriously.  He was ordained in 1615 in what is now Colombia.  During that time, the slave trade was vigorous, and the port of Cartagena was a central entry point for African slaves.  Ten thousand slaves would pour into Colombia through Cartagena every year under extremely foul conditions.  Around a third of them would die in transit.

Whenever a ship would enter the port, Peter Claver would swing into action. After the slaves were herded out of the ship, Claver plunged in among them with medicine, food, and other supplies. With the help of interpreters he gave basic instructions and assured his brothers and sisters of their human dignity and God’s saving love. During the 40 years of his ministry, Claver instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves.

He ministered in the Colombian missions until his death, vowing to be “the slave of the blacks forever.”  He died in 1654 and was given a public and pompous funeral by the city magistrates, even though they had previously expressed their displeasure for his ministry to the black outcasts.  He was canonized in 1888 and Pope Leo XIII declared him to be the worldwide patron of missionaries to the black peoples.

Just like Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, Saint Peter Claver didn’t make a lot of friends among the establishment for doing what he did.  But he did make God’s love present in miraculous ways, and brought healing to those who had been bought and sold.  May we all be healers today.

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