Celebrate the Memorial of St. Peter Claver

The likeness of St. Peter Claver is seen in stained glass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Ill. Canonized in 1888, St. Peter Claver is now considered the patron saint of human rights in Colombia. (CNS photo/The Crosiers) 

Thursday, September 9, 2021, is the Memorial of St. Peter Claver, who ministered to enslaved Africans. Accordingly, he is a patron saint of African Americans and of enslaved peoples. Each year on the Feast of St. Peter Claver, we are encouraged to engage in heightened prayer and action to strive for peace in our communities.

Peter Claver was born in Spain in 1580 and studied at the University of Barcelona, where he first encountered the Jesuits. He was ordained a priest and went on to minister to enslaved Africans in Cartagena, the hub of Spain’s slave trade, for 40 years. Click here to read more about this inspiring Jesuit missionary from America Magazine.

In the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter, Open Wide Our Hearts, the bishops issue an urgent call for conversion: “What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change and the reform of our institutions and society. Conversion is a long road to travel for the individual. Moving our nation to a full realization of the promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all is even more challenging. However, in Christ, we can find the strength and the grace necessary to make that journey” (p. 4). Click here for more resources from the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. And read an inspiring reflection from Pope Francis on St. Peter Claver’s important work:

My Jesuit confrere, Peter Claver, was a remarkable man. He left his homeland forever in 1610 to be a missionary in the colonies of the New World. By this time the slave trade had been established in the Americas for nearly 100 years and he dedicated his life to caring for those trapped in this terrible evil. During his 40 years of ministry, he provided medical care to them as well as instructing and baptizing an estimated 300,000 of their number.

It would be wonderful to think that slavery was a thing of the past. Sadly, this is not so. During the Year of Mercy, I recall one of my Mercy Friday visits to a house here in Rome run by the Pope John XXIII Community for victims of human trafficking. I did not think I could find such humiliated, afflicted, and suffering women there. Truly women crucified.

I listened to the moving and very human stories of these women, some of them with their child in their arms. Afterward, I felt the need to ask forgiveness for the real torture they had to endure because of their clients, many of whom call themselves Christian.

A person can never be offered for sale. I am deeply touched by those who, in the spirit of Peter Claver, conduct the precious and courageous work of rescue and rehabilitation. This work is dangerous because it runs the risk of possible retaliation by crime syndicates for whom these women represent an inexhaustible source of illegal and shameful profit.

If we are to combat the exploitation and humiliation of human lives effectively, we need to tell the stories behind the shocking numbers of people trafficked.

Corruption is a disease that does not stop on its own. We need to raise awareness individually and collectively about racism and slavery, and in the church as well.

Any form of prostitution is a reduction into slavery, a criminal act, a disgusting vice that confuses love-making with venting one’s instincts by torturing a defenseless woman.

It is pathological to think that a woman can be exploited like a commodity to be used and thrown away. Prostitution is a disease, a wrong way of thinking. To free these modern slaves is to continue the work of Peter Claver, and is a gesture of mercy, a duty for all people of goodwill. We cannot be indifferent before their cry of pain, nor can we turn away and wash our hands of the innocent blood that is shed on the roads of the world.