The Catholic Defender: St. Peter Claver, Man Of Many Conversions
1 Timothy 6:1-3 “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;”
Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
September 9th, the Church celebrates the life of St. Peter Claver which illustrates the very intent of St. Paul’s writing to St. Timothy and to the Galatians.
His whole life was modeled after the New Testament.
St. Peter was born of impoverished parents at Verdu, Catalonia, Spain. This early experience would be the foundation that St. Peter would come to understand the people whom he would serve with pastoral care.
In 1580 Spain St. Peter grew up in the environment that is not too different from what is happening in the United States today.
The Spanish tax burden fell upon the poor, hitting the agricultural sector particularly hard. Despite this, the Spanish Government’s expenditures continue to climb.
As a result, the Spanish Government both borrowed money, and then assigned future revenues to the bankers. Does this not all sound familiar? The interest that the Government has to pay back kept the Government from ever paying off their debts.
This was the environment that St. Peter Claver was raised and he really didn’t have the heritage that his ancestry once had owned. From his early years, he places himself in the heart of Jesus and Mary. His love for the Lord was apparent to all who knew him. As expected, St. Peter decided to attend a Jesuit college in Barcelona and in 1602, at age 18, became a novitiate at Tarrangona. He took his final vows on August 8th, 1604. St. Peter was only 20 years old.
During his study, St. Peter became associated with St. Alphonsus Rodriquez who influenced St. Peter to be a missionary. They were inspired to go to the Indies and save millions of perishing souls.
These two great saints took 2 Timothy 4:5 to heart, “But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.”
Both St. Peter and Alphonsus developed this great zeal for evangelization.
St. Alphonsus was a hard worker who was a door keeper, he would meditate on the scriptures in his mind while hard at work. He allowed the Holy Spirit to work in his life. That light was irresistible to St. Peter who was greatly encouraged by St. Alphonsus.
The Church for a long time had condemned slavery, Pope Paul III condemned Slavery the century before, but the European colonist refused to listen. From Africa, there was money to be made for each, the black tribes living in Africa, and the European buyers who enslaved Blacks forcing them to work farm plantations and mines.
The journey from Africa to the Americas was a terrible hardship. Once in the Americas, the Slaves were expected to live their lives as slaves. When St. Peter Claver became exposed to what was happening, he resolved to giving his life on behalf of the slaves for the rest of his life.
St. Peter did everything he could to bring material aid and eternal salvation to all the African Slaves.
In 1610, He arrived in modern day Columbia where he made his vow to serve the African slaves forever until slavery would be finally ended.
St. Peter overcame health problems adjusting to the tropical climate, he learned to communicate with the African population he served.
Because of St. Peter, his influence, Spanish Royal Officials contributed to help the slaves giving relief and religious education. But the Slave-traders continued to be harsh, they felt that St. Peter was in the way of their money making agenda.
Despite the influence of St. Peter, several of the Spanish refused to go to Confession where the Slaves were populated. Even today, we can still see this affect of separation in America.
By his whole example, St. Peter lived the Catholic faith totally being the example to all he met. He lived on meager means himself living in the conditions of those he served. His generosity affected thousands. His reputation did far more in securing food, drink, and helping the sick.
Like St. Paul, St. Peter’s life of humility and penance led to miraculous occurrences as when he healed the sick with the touch of his cloak, or appeared surrounded by a supernatural light during his hospital visits.
Acts 19:11 states,“So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of St. Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them”.
In the course of time, September 8th, 1654, St. Peter baptized and reached more than 300,000 slaves serving four decades in Cartagena, Columbia. Like St. Paul before him, St. Peter Claver would enter into the heavenly glory. Pope Leo XIII canonized both St. Peter Claver and St. Alphonsus on 15 January 1888.
Prayer: St. Peter Claver, you showed Christ’s love to the slaves, going where no one else would go, and doing what no one else would do. Give us the courage to put aside our fears and prejudices and give wholly of ourselves to minister to those enslaved by poverty, hunger, fear, and ignorance. Help us to demonstrate Christ’s love by our actions as well as our words, so that others may come to believe in his saving power. Amen.