Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Feast Day of Saint Peter Claver

We celebrate the feast day.

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

The Spanish settlers in the Americas had a perceived need for laborers both to cultivate the lands which they had conquered and to work the gold mines. European diseases decimated the indigenous peoples, and the Spanish replaced them as a default labour force with slaves brought from Africa. The coasts of Guinea, the Congo, and Angola became a market for slave-dealers. Due to its position on the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena became a chief slave-mart of the New World. A thousand slaves landed there each month. The great demand for slaves in the Americas meant that the trade was extremely profitable for merchants, even though as many as one-third of slaves died on the voyage in the 17th century.

As new slaves arrived, Claver ran out to meet them, carrying food and clothes to the living and removing the bodies of those who had died. He cared for the weakest first and took the sick to a nearby hospital he had built. Using natives as interpreters, he then began sharing the Gospel with all who would hear. Having won their good will, he instructed and baptized them into the Faith. Claver dedicated his life to the service of these people, humbly caring for the lepers and those suffering from smallpox, cleaning their sores and consoling them when others were disgusted by their diseases. He and the slaves he ministered to would prepare great banquets to celebrate holy days, inviting and ministering to the lepers, slaves, and beggers.

The apostle was accused of indiscreet zeal, and of having profaned the Sacraments by giving them to "creatures" deemed to scarcely possess a soul, even though Pope Paul III had proclaimed in his encyclical Sublimis Deus that non-European peoples had souls and were eligible to receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Indeed, many found the sense of dignity Claver gave the slaves a dangerous thing. Despite the contempt for him among the merchant and landed classes, his efforts—which he continued until his death in 1654—were supported by the Jesuit community. His work and writings, along with those of others such as the Dominican priest Bartolomé 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.

He 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 Claver.

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