Saint Peter Claver 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.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus commands us to love by extending ourselves to people we don’t know or perhaps even wouldn’t associate with. Saint Peter Claver did that by taking care of the basic needs and spiritual welfare of people who arrived in deplorable conditions just to be bought and sold. Through his care, they at least knew that someone cared about them and that God loved them. How will we let other people know that today?