St. Peter Claver

For those convinced that the Catholic Church was forcing conversions in New Spain, let me introduce you to St. Peter Claver.

A native of Catalonia, Spain, Peter Claver spent all his adult life in Cartagena, Colombia, the center of the slave trade in the new world. Appalled at the dehumanization of the whole dirty business of slave trading, he made a personal vow in addition to those of his religious profession as a Jesuit–that until his death, he would serve and advocate on behalf of the Africans sold into slavery.

While the commonly regarded among Europeans as little more than advanced animals, he insisted that they were truly equal in worth and dignity to the Europeans. In his lifetime Peter Claver ministered to over 300,000 Africans brought to South America as slaves. Despite the contempt for him among the merchant and landed classes, his work was supported by the Jesuit Order and he was canonized a saint by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. His work and writings along with others such as Bartolome de las Casas, while broadly rejected in his time laid the foundation for the eventual rejection of the institution of slavery by the Catholic Church and the European powers by the early 19th Century.

An exerpt from one of his letters:

Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.


We lad aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.


This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.

One Response to St. Peter Claver

  1. slicetreat says:

    very inspiring post and photo. I love it. Makes me peaceful and calm. Thanks for sharing.
    Scott

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