St. Peter Claver

Julie Lonneman

Artist's Narrative:
Young Jesuit Peter Claver left Spain in 1610 for the colonies of the New World. He was ordained in Cartagena (Columbia) in 1615 and never returned to his native land.

Cartagena, a bustling port on the Caribbean, was a major center for the slave trade. Ten thousand slaves arrived each year, disembarking from ships in which conditions were so horrendous that an estimated one-third of the slaves died while crossing the Atlantic. Peter Claver met the arriving slave ships and entered their putrid holds bearing medicines, food, brandy, lemons and tobacco. His assistance was not limited to the physical: Claver instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves during the 40 years of his ministry. But he would often say, "We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips.”

Though Claver declared himself "the slave of the Negroes forever,” and devoted himself tirelessly to their wellbeing, his care extended to all the people of Cartagena. He could be found preaching in the city square and giving missions to sailors and traders. When traveling on mission trips in the countryside, he refused the hospitality of slave owners, instead insisting on lodging in the slave quarters.

His feast day is September 9.


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