Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest
St. Peter Claver, the “Slave of the Slaves,” was a Jesuit missionary sent to present-day Cartegena, Colombia after an encounter with the mystic St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ left him convinced that God was calling him to New Spain. He arrived in 1610 and began his theology studies in preparation for ordination to the priesthood, and during that time he was heartbroken at to see the treatment of the many slaves being brought in on ships from Africa at a rate of 10,000 or more a year. A Jesuit priest named Alonso de Sandoval had begun a ministry focused on serving the needs of the slaves, and he learned much about their languages and customs. His example inspired St. Peter Claver who joined him in the ministry, and was so dedicated to the work that when he took his final vows in 1622 he signed the document “Peter Claver, Servant of the Ethiopians forever.”
Sandoval ministered to the slaves wherever they were made to work; Claver was inspired to minister to the slaves when they first arrived. He would meet them at the docks, and even board the ships they came in on, ships filthy with human waste and the bodies of those who did not survive the brutal journey. He ministered to these poor people for four decades until illness confined him to his bed until he died on this date in 1654.
“No life,” Pope Leo XIII spoke on the occasion of the canonization of St. Peter Claver in 1888, “except the life of Christ, has moved me so deeply as that of Peter Claver.” In today’s saint we see a man who was even more deeply moved by the life of Christ who, “…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2:6-7). Contemplating the life of Jesus in his youth, St. Peter once wrote, “I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave.”
When we consider the life of Jesus, when we look upon the Cross, may we be so moved by His example that we take to heart His great commandment: “…love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” (John 13:34).