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A Saint for Slaves

San Pedro de Claver (Saint Peter Claver) born in 1580 is the patron saint of slaves and human rights. He was a Jesuit Catholic priest from Spain sent to do missionary work in the new world. He preached and conducted his ministry in Cartagena, Colombia, a city with a painful history as one of the world’s largest slave ports.

Claver would meet the slave ships as they entered the port and immediately began to tend to the sick and abused slaves. He gave food and medicine and the cloak off of his back to the most in need. He spoke out against slavery and used the alms of the wealthy to buy food and medicine for the slaves. He was beloved by the slaves and criticized by the wealthy.

He was canonized a saint by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 who said that “No life, except the life of Christ, has moved me so deeply as that of Peter Claver.”

Four centuries later, Peter Claver and his life’s work is still influencing world events. On September 10, 2017, Pope Francis will arrive in Cartagena to walk the streets that Peter Claver walked and to say a mass at the church where he ministered and died. His body is preserved in the cathedral. Pope Francis is expected to speak out against modern forms of slavery such as human trafficking and slavery to money. He is also expected to apologize to the children of slaves for the long history of the church in condoning the practice of slavery.

Today, the Knights of Peter Claver is the largest organization of African American Catholics and is headquartered in New Orleans.

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