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Saint Peter Claver
Saint Peter Claver
Born June 26, 1580(1580-06-26), Verdu, Catalonia, Kingdom of Spain
Died September 8, 1654 (aged 74), Cartagena, Colombia
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Beatified July 16, 1850, Rome by Pope Pius IX
Canonized January 15, 1888, Rome by Pope Leo XIII
Major shrine Church of Saint Peter Claver
Feast September 9
Patronage Slaves, Colombia, Race relations, and African Americans

Saint Peter Claver (Spanish: San Pedro Claver Corberó) (June 26, 1580 – September 8, 1654) was a Jesuit who, due to his life and work, became the patron saint of slaves, of Colombia and of African Americans.


Fame spreads and sainthood beckons

Claver became the prophet and miracle worker of Cartagena, and many were convinced that often God would not have spared the city save for him. During his life he is said to have baptized and instructed in the Faith more than 300,000 of the Africans brought to the Americas. He was beatified July 16, 1850, by Pope Pius IX, and canonized January 15, 1888, by Pope Leo XIII. His feast is celebrated on September 9, which marks the day after his death on September 8 (the same day as the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary). On July 7, 1896, he was proclaimed the special patron of all the Catholic missions among the negroes, "negroes" being an acceptable term in 1896. Alphonsus Rodriguez was canonized on the same day as Peter Caver.

More about Saint Peter Claver

By this time the slave trade had been established in the Americas for nearly 100 years, and Cartagena was a chief center for it. Ten thousand slaves poured into the port each year after crossing the Atlantic from West Africa under conditions so foul and inhuman that an estimated one-third of the passengers died in transit. Although the practice of slave-trading was condemned by Pope Paul III and later labeled "supreme villainy" by Pius IX, it continued to flourish.

Peter Claver's predecessor, Jesuit Father Alfonso de Sandoval, had devoted himself to the service of the slaves for 40 years before Claver arrived to continue his work; declaring himself, "the slave of the slaves forever." As soon as a slave ship entered the port, Peter Claver moved into its infested hold to minister to the ill-treated and miserable passengers. After the slaves were herded out of the ship like chained animals and shut up in nearby yards to be gazed at by the crowds, Claver plunged in among them with medicines, food, bread, brandy, lemons and tobacco. 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. Furthermore, Claver worked to see that as Christians they were accorded their legal rights.

His apostolate extended beyond his care for slaves. He became a moral force, indeed, the apostle of Cartagena. He preached in the city square, gave missions to sailors and traders as well as country missions - returning to visit those he'd baptized and to follow up that they were being treated humanely. During these missions he avoided, whenever possible, the hospitality of the planters and owners, and lodged in the slave quarters instead. Through the force of his own extraordinary personality and morals, applied over many years, the state of the slaves gradually improved. After four years of illness which forced the saint into his room, and where he remained, largely neglected and forgotten, he died on September 8, 1654. The city magistrates, who had previously frowned at his constant solicitations on behalf of the slaves, ordered that he should be buried at public expense and with great pomp. Only after his death did people begin to realize the true scope of his activities; and the astronomical number of persons he had single handedly baptized. He was canonized in 1888, and Pope Leo XIII declared him the worldwide patron of missionary work among black slaves.

Comment: The Holy Spirit's might and power are manifested in the striking decisions and bold actions of Peter Claver. A decision to leave one's homeland never to return reveals a gigantic act of will difficult for the contemporary mind to imagine. Peter's determination to serve forever the most abused, rejected and lowly of all people is stunningly heroic. When we measure our lives against such a man's, we become aware of our own barely used potential and of our need to open ourselves more to the jolting power of Jesus' Spirit. Quote: Peter Claver understood that concrete service like the distributing of medicine, food or brandy to his black brothers and sisters could be as effective a communication of the word of God as mere verbal preaching. As Peter Claver often said, "We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips."

Publications and References

  • P. B. G. Fleuriot, "Saint Pierre Claver, Apôtre des nègres," (revised edition, Paris, 1888)
  • F. Höver, "Der heiliger Peter Claver, Apostel der Neger und Carthagenas," (Dülmen, 1888)
  • Justo L. González, "The Story of Christianity," Volume 1.
  • Angel Valtierra, S.J., "Peter Claver: Saint of the Slaves," (1954 Spanish) (1960 English trans.) Maryland: The Newman Press
  • Mabel Farnum, "Street of the Half-moon, an account of the Spanish noble, Pedro Claver," (1940 novel)
  • Arnold Lunn, "A saint in the slave trade; Peter Claver," (1935)

See also

External links



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