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Models of Mercy

Peter Claver

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By Melanie Williams (Sep 9, 2017)
Peter Claver was born to a prosperous family in Spain in 1581. His mother had prayed to Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, and to Mary, the Mother of God, for the gift of a vocation to the priesthood for her son. Peter was taught from an early age to let nothing come between him and the love of God. He joined the Jesuits at the age of 20.

At that time in Spain, there were Africans brought as slaves for the king. Peter saw these slaves, and as he prayed and studied in the novitiate, he wrote in his journal, "I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave, wholly occupied in the service of his Master and in the endeavor to please and content Him in all and in every way with his whole soul, body, and mind."

Many of his Jesuit brothers were going as missionaries to the New World, and one of his brothers in particular, St. Alphonsus de Sandoval, urged Peter to go to the South American missions where he could save "millions of abandoned souls." Peter did not hesitate and was sent to Cartagena, Columbia — a climate that was hot and humid, a breeding ground for many contagious diseases. African slaves were being brought in by the hundreds of thousands (more than 15 million over the course of 400 years). Peter trained servants who were able to speak the African languages as catechists. He would gather baskets of food, water, and medicine, and would board the ships as they came into port. He couldn't stop the slave trade, but he could enter into the mess and serve Christ in each of the men and women, young and old, being brought into port.

He wrote an account of this in one of his letters:

Yesterday, May 30, 1627, numerous blacks ... disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. ... We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on the wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. ... they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

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. ... 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.

After this we began an elementary instruction about baptism ... When by their answers to our questions they showed they had sufficiently understood this, we went on to a more extensive instruction, namely, about the one God. ... Finally, when they appeared sufficiently prepared, we declared to them the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Passion. Showing them Christ fastened to the cross, as he is depicted on the baptismal font on which streams of blood flow down from his wounds, we led them in reciting an act of contrition in their own language.

After working 40 years among the slaves, a plague hit the city which left Peter nearly incapacitated and in the care of a servant who often neglected him. He died on Sept. 8, 1654. One million slaves passed through the city of Cartegena while Peter was there, and he cared for one third of them, baptizing 300,000.

Peter was not afraid to go into the mess and darkness. Imagine the stench of the ships, the horror of the scene, the difficulties of caring for those who cannot understand you, are frightened and sick. Yet Peter walked bravely to these people who felt completely abandoned, to show them that they were dearly loved and cared for by God.

Where might the Lord be calling you to go and serve? Who is He calling you to love whom the world might be deeming unlovable, unworthy, without dignity? Go, and be brave. Ask for the intercession of St. Peter Claver, and bring the love of Christ to all those you meet.

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Brenda Lee Allor - Sep 9, 2017

St.Peter Claver Pray for Us. National Day of Prayer for Peace in our community
unite and strengthen us.