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Sunday, June 24, 2018
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Daily Saint

September 09: St. Peter Claver

This Spanish priest of the Society of Jesus was born in 1580. He is known as the "apostle of the slaves." While he was still studying to become a Jesuit, he felt a burning desire to go to South America as a missionary. He volunteered and was sent to the seaport of Cartagena. There great shiploads of African slaves were brought to be sold.

At the sight of those poor people all crowded together, sick and suffering, Peter felt great pity. He made up his mind to help them and to convert them. As soon as a shipload arrived, he would go among the hundreds of sick slaves. He gave them food and medicine. He baptized the dying and the little babies. He nursed the ill. It was hard work in terrible heat. One man who went once with St. Peter could never face the heart-breaking sight again. Yet Peter did it for forty years. He baptized some three hundred thousand people. He was there when the ships came in. He cared for and loved those who were treated so unjustly by society.

Although the slave owners tried to stop Father Claver, he taught the faith to the slaves anyway. It was slow, discouraging work. Many people criticized him, saying it was all a waste of time. They thought the slaves would never keep the faith. But St. Peter was patient and he trusted that God would bless his people. He also went to visit his converts after they left Cartagena. The priest never stopped urging the slave owners to take care of the souls of their slaves and to be better Christians themselves.

During the last four years of his life, Father Claver was so sick that he had to stay in his room, He could not even celebrate Mass. Most everyone forgot about him, but he never complained. Then suddenly at his death on September 8, 1654, it was like the whole city woke up. They realized that they had lost a saint. From then on he was never forgotten again. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him a saint in 1888.

Reflection: "We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips."—St. Peter Claver