Memorial of St. Peter Claver

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Peter Claver. He was born in Spain, in1581. Peter joined the Jesuit’s and left his homeland forever in 1610 to be a missionary in what is now Columbia. By this time the slave trade had been established in the Americas for nearly 100 years, and Columbia was one of the major centers of slave trade in the New World. 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. When Peter saw the misery of the slaves he plunged in, helping the slaves in any way he could. First, he ministered to their physical needs with food, bread and lemons, then to their spiritual needs. He administered medicine to those who needed it, and offered brandy and tobacco to those who wanted it. He said, “We must speak to them with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.” Through interpreters he taught the basics of our Catholic faith, and baptized more than 300,000 slaves during the course of 40 years.

After the slaves were sold, he still worked to help them, visiting the plantations to continue teaching and ministering to their physical needs.  He became a thorn in the conscience of those dealing with the slave trade reminding them of their moral duties to fellow human being. He preached in the city square and gave missions to sailors and traders. Then, after four years of sickness, St. Peter Claver died on September 8, 1654, at age 73.  Pope Leo XIII declared him the worldwide patron of missionary work among black slaves.

So, what can we learn from him?  Perhaps this: To speak with our hands before we speak with our lips.