Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver

So who is this saint? Wikipedia tell us that:

- the patron saint of slaves, of Colombia and of African Americans
- born on June 26 1580 in Verdu, Catalonia in Spain
- dedicated his life to the service of slaves - as new slaves arrived, Claver would carry food and clothes to the living, remove the bodies of those who had died. He cared for the weakest first and took the sick to a nearby hospital he had built - shared the Gospel with all slaves who would hear and instructed and baptized them into the Faith.
- many found the sense of dignity Claver gave the slaves a dangerous thing
- his efforts were supported by the Jesuit community, to which he was a member of.
- became the prophet and miracle worker of Cartagena
- died on September 8 1654, beatified on July 16 1850, and canonized on January 15 1888
-An excerpt from one of his letters:
Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We laid aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.


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