St. Peter Claver Show Us the Way

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, how do we become merciful like our heavenly father and also how do we open our hearts to receive God’s mercy in our lives?

The Church’s saints can be our guide! They lived during complex times that challenged them in many ways. They overcame daily struggles with faith. The Florida Catholic is highlighting saints of mercy who blazed trails showing us the path to heaven with merciful hearts. They demonstrated works of mercy, which often requires hard work – as the name implies. They depended on God’s love and grace to make this possible. We hope you will enjoy reading their stories of mercy and reflecting on how you can follow their footsteps into the arms of Jesus Christ.

St. Peter Claver, S.J., Feast Day is September 7

This saint reminds us of the Corporal Acts of Mercy to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and visit the sick.  He also reminds us of the Spiritual Act of Mercy to “instruct the ignorant.” Another way to understand this act of mercy is to say “teach the faith to others.”

St. Peter Claver was born on June 26, 1581, to a devout Catholic farming family living near Barcelona.  He is the patron saint of slaves and ministry to African Americans.

St. Peter Claver attended the University of Barcelona, where he was known for his piety and intelligence, and entered the Society of Jesus in Tarragona when he was 20.  Following his novitiate, he studied philosophy at Palma, Mallorca.  While there, he came to know St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a layman revered for his holiness and prophecy. Alphonsus believed God was calling Peter to a life of service in the colonies of New Spain, and he frequently encouraged Peter to accept the calling.

Peter volunteered to serve in the Spanish colonies and was sent to Cartagena in 1610. He spent the next six years waiting to be ordained a priest, and lived in Jesuit houses in Tunja and Bogota. During these years he was deeply disturbed by the living conditions and harsh treatment under which African slaves existed.

Cartagena was the slave trading hub of the new world. Approximately 1,000 slaves per month arrived in its port, having crossed the Atlantic from West Africa under conditions so horrific that an estimated one-third of these souls died in transit.

Peter devoted his life to caring for these enslaved men and women.

Peter saw the black slaves as fellow Christians, and encouraged others to do the same.  He went to the wharf when the slave ships arrived, and boarded the filthy holds of ships. There he gave the enslaved whatever provisions for which he could beg, and even gave the cloaks he wore to whomever needed them. It is said that whomever wore the cloaks received lifetime health and cure from disease. When the slaves were herded from the ships and penned in yards, Peter would visit them bringing sustenance, and with the help of interpreters, started giving basic instructions in the Catholic faith.

It is estimated that Peter brought 300,000 souls to the Catholic Church. His legacy lives on today in the Diocese of St. Petersburg where St. Peter Claver Catholic School serves 200-plus, largely African American, students.

How can you follow St. Peter Claver’s example to bring liberty to captives, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and share your faith with others?  

Starting with your own family and friends, tell others about your relationship with Jesus Christ and his merciful and loving ways. Witness the Gospel through your loving actions and the people around you will learn about the faith we profess.

The Diocese of Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force is a direct response to the Florida Catholic Conference initiative launched in December 2009 to bring awareness to the horrors of slavery which exists today known as Human Trafficking.  Individuals interested in learning more and working in collaborative partnerships within the Diocese of Orlando and the larger community can contact Deacon Fred Molina at DOHTTF@orlandodiocese.org, Christine Shields at cshields@orlandodiocese.org  or Deacon David Gray at dgray@orlandodiocese.org.