Saint Peter Claver

9 September

St. Peter Claver was born in 1580, in Verdu, Catalonia, Spain. He was the son of a farmer coming from a rather poor family. However he made his way to be able to study at the University of Barcelona that was run by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. In 1602, Peter himself joined the Jesuits and was encouraged by another Jesuit, Alphonse Rodriguez, to do missionary work in the Spanish colonies of America and that is what he did in 1610, journeying to the New Kingdom of central America as a missionary. It was here that he continued his studies for the priesthood and was ordained priest.

By this time, the slave trade had already flourished in Central and South America. Years before, the strong Spanish navy had journeyed to this part of the world, taking possession of vast territories of land. Spanish landowners needed labourers to cultivate the land and work in the goldmines. But the natives of the land were neither enough in number nor strong enough for the strenuous work.
Ships set out to the shores of Africa, along the coasts of Guinea, the Congo and Angola where they kidnapped locals or traded slaves from the king, for a petty sum of money, to be sold at a profit at the Port of Caragena (now Colombia). Each month about a thousand slaves landed there after being held in the hold of the ship and later in warehouses in sordid conditions,  to be sold later as slaves to rich landowners.  
It was in this infested environment steeped in stench that Peter Claver started his missionary work, dedicating himself to treating the slaves with human dignity, to the extent that he became known as he himself described himself, ‘the slave of the negro slaves’. The word “Negro” was used because of the brown skin colour of the slaves, but soon it also became a word that implied lack of respect, that reflected the horrible actions of “white” slave traders. 

In this context, Peter was different for he always respected the dignity of those who were sold in slavery. He would beg and collect clothes, bread, fruit and even medicines and carrying everything in baskets. He would tend to the slaves handing around jugs of water. While doing this to alleviate their sufferings, he told them how Jesus loved each and every one of them. Then he would instruct them into the Faith helped by interpreters and catechists from the mission stationed in the area. If they would become Christians, Peter Claver would continue to administer the Sacraments to them.
Peter Claver’s ministry extended beyond his attention to the slaves. He preached in the city square, in missions to traders snd sailors, travelling to the plantations in the countryside as follow-up to meet the slaves he would have baptized, while seeking new converts, choosing to lodge in the slaves’ quarters for most of the time.

The ministry of Peter Claver stretched over 40 years. It is estimated that he brought 300,000 people who had been sold to slavery to Christianity! For as St Pail says: In Christ there is no slave or free. We are all equal in Jesus’ eyes. St. Peter Claver died in 1654 after 4 years suffering from the plague. He had dedicated his life to the poorest of the poor, those kidnapped and sold to slavery, and he remains known for living the evangelical precept of showing love in deeds and not in words.
(For the older children you might consider taking a world map and trace St. Peter Claver’s journey from Spain to Colombia and trips from Central America to the West Coast of Africa crossing the oceans in ships.

Pope Francis always insists that we need to treat others with dignity, irrespective of differences in colour, culture and beliefs. He expressed this in an Encyclical Letter – an official letter addressed to all Catholic Bishops who will proclaim the teaching of the Church contained in it, to all the Faithful. This is the Encyclical  Fratelli Tutti   meaning “All Brothers.” This is what St. Peter Claver practised so many years ago.

With the re-opening of the scholastic year so near, discuss with the children:
Their attitudes to students who they think/feel are different from them, in race, language, beliefs.
Ways as to how they would encourage others in their circle of friends to accept others, irrespective of differences.

Saint Peter Claver dedicated his life to serving the slaves, bringing them food clothing and medicines.

Encourage the children to stop and have a look around them and identify to whom and how they can be of service.

Suggestions might include:
help in the preparation for dinner, set and clear the table before and after meals , wash/dry dishes (for the older ones!), bake a cake/cookies and take them to older relatives on a visit or to a lonely neighbour.

Discuss with the children what would they do if a child in class has nothing to eat at lunch break. Lead them to find alternatives to ‘I will give them mine’.

Family Prayer Time – Revisit the Parable of the Good Samaritan and make it a prayerful experience.

  • Let the children express their thoughts of how St. Peter Claver was a Good Samaritan.
  • Lead prayers of thanksgiving not only before and after meals but making children aware of all the good things that surround them: Food, clothes, toys, home, people who love them, steering them from whining and being finicky.
  • Pray for the missionary priests, sisters, lay people who leave their country and travel to far off lands to help people in dire conditions and to bring to them the Good News that God loves them.

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.