By Caroline Liberatore (Rated G)
When followers of Jesus Christ pursue lives of self-sacrificial ministry, the gospel comes to life in a truly palpable way. St. Peter, self-proclaimed “slave of the Negroes forever,” embodied this with particular fervor and impact. In 1580, he was born into a family of humble, impoverished standing in Catalonia, Spain. In Spain, he studied at Jesuit college and eventually joined a Jesuit novitiate in 1602. During his later studies in Majorca, Claver was urged by St. Alphonsus Rodriguez to travel to the New World in order to reach populations there—particularly, slaves who were being forced into the slave trade.
Thus, in 1610, Claver found himself in Cartagena—a main hub for the slave trade—and immersed himself in faithful ministry to African slaves. For Claver, this entailed both practical and spiritual care. He did his best to meet every slave ship so he could greet the slaves and provide them with practical necessities, such as food and medicine. During their travels, these slaves certainly endured unimaginable brutality and trauma; Claver sought to counteract this through simple acts and words of kindness and mercy. In doing so, he became a trustworthy friend and ally.
Claver’s example is of particular integrity, as he not only opposed slavery with words, but even more so through the pouring out of his very life. Through his committed service, Claver ascribed dignity and incorruptible value to the enslaved on the basis of the gospel. In addition to practical provisions, Claver was zealous to share the gospel, conduct church services, and baptize those who came to believe. He not only reached the slaves in ministry, but often chose to live among them in the slave quarters as well. It was evident through this simple but radical action that Claver was convinced of their innate worth as human beings. He was utterly unfazed by any backlash and exile which followed, and did not shy away from his mission in even discreet ways.
Peter Claver died in Columbia in 1654, after a drawn-out bout of severe illness. Behind him, he left a legacy of 40 years of ministry in Cartagena and the baptism of 300,000 enslaved people. May we, as St. Peter Claver, be zealous to lay down our lives for those who are most rejected and mistreated.