Life of St. Peter Claver (the Apostle of Cartagena)
In our society today were human life holds no dignity anymore, death everywhere, killings and Rituals all because of wealth, Fame and power. Let us look into the life of St. Peter Claver who loved human life and treated Slaves as though they were free born.
From His lifestyle with slaves, one can see the value of life and know how to treat the less Privileged among us.
St. Peter Claver was born in 1580 into a devoutly Catholic and prosperous farming family in the Catalan village from Barcelona Spain.
Having attended the Barcelona university, St. Peter Claver was noted for his intelligence and piety. After two years of study there, Claver wrote these words in the notebook he kept throughout his life: “I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave.”
After he had completed his studies, Claver entered the Society of Jesus in Tarragona at the age of 20. When he had completed the novitiate, he was sent to study philosophy at Mallorca. While there, he came to know the porter of the college, St. Alphonsus Rodriquez, a lay brother known for his holiness and gift of prophecy.
Rodriguez felt that he had been told by God that Claver was to spend his life in service in the colonies of New Spain, and he frequently urged the young student to accept that calling.
Peter spent six years studying theology before being ordained a priest, he lived in Jesuit houses. During those preparatory years, he was deeply disturbed by the harsh treatment and living conditions of the black slaves who were brought from Africa.
Life with the slaves.
St. Peter Claver showed great love for Slaves and respect for human life during his lifetime. He loved them as Christ would love and treat them.
St. Peter Claver wore a cloak, which he would lend to anyone in need. A legend arose that whoever wore the cloak received lifetime health and was cured of all disease. After the slaves were herded from the ship and penned in nearby yards to be scrutinized by crowds of buyers, St. Peter Claver joined them with medicine, food, bread, lemons. With the help of interpreters and pictures which he carried with him; he gave basic instructions to slaves.
St. Peter Claver saw the slaves as fellow Christians, encouraging others to do so as well. During the season when slavers were not accustomed to arrive, he traversed the country, visiting plantation after plantation, to give spiritual consolation to the slaves.
During his 40 years of ministry, it is estimated that he personally catechized and baptized 300,000 slaves.
He would then follow up on them to ensure that as Christians they received their Christian and Civic Right. His mission extended beyond caring for slaves, however.
He preached in the city square, to sailors and traders and conducted country missions, returning every spring to visit those he had baptized, ensuring that they were treated humanely. During these missions, whenever possible he avoided the hospitality of planters and overseers; instead, he would lodge in the Slave quarters.
St. Peter Claver’s work on behalf of slaves did not prevent him from ministering to the souls of well-to-do members of society, traders and visitors to Cartagena (including Muslims and English Protestants) and condemned criminals, many of whom he spiritually prepared for death; he was also a frequent visitor at the city’s hospitals.
Through years of unremitting toil and the force of his own unique personality, the slaves’ situation slowly improved. In time he became a moral force, the Apostle of Cartagena.
Many organizations, missions, parishes, religious congregations, schools and hospitals bear the name of St. Peter Claver and also claim to continue the Mission of Claver as the following:
- The Knights of Peter Claver international, is the largest African-American Catholic fraternal organization in the United States.
- Claver’s mission continues today in the work of the Apostleship of the Sea and his inspiration remains among port chaplains and those who visit ships in the name of the church, through the Apostleship of the Sea.
- The Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver are a religious congregation of women dedicated to serving the spiritual and social needs of the poor around the world, particularly in Africa. They were founded in Austria by the Blessed Mary Theresa Ledochowska in 1894.
St. Peter Claver is the patron saint of Slaves, Colombia, race relations, ministry to African-Americans, seafarers.
In the last years of his life, St. Peter Claver was too ill to leave his room. He lingered for four years, largely forgotten and neglected, physically abused and starved by an ex-slave who had been hired by the Superior of the house to care for him.
He never complained about his treatment, accepting it as a just punishment for his sins. He died on 8 September 1654.
His Canonization and Feast Day
St. Peter Claver was canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII, along with the holy Jesuit porter, Alphonsus Rodriguez. In 1896 Pope Leo also declared Claver the patron of missionary work among all African peoples.
His body is preserved and venerated in the church of the Jesuit residence, now renamed in his honor.
St. Peter Claver feast day is 9 September.
May God give us the grace to love and respect the human life just as St. Peter Claver did. Happy Mid-week.