Claver, Peter, St.

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Jesuit missionary, called the Saint of the Slaves; b. Verdu, Spain, 1580; d. Cartagena, Colombia, 1654. Very little is known of his early years. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1602. In 1605, while studying for his degree in philosophy in the San Sion College of Mallorca, he was befriended by (St.) Alphonsus rodrÍguez, who encouraged him in his apostolic zeal and in his later missionary work in the New World. He continued his theological studies in Barcelona until 1610, when he was sent to Cartagena, which was then a very important port of entry to the Indies, teeming with merchants and slave traders. In Cartagena he met Alonso de Sandoval, who was deeply concerned with helping the slaves who, captured in Africa, were landed in America chained together in misery and fear of the unknown. Two important books by Sandoval are fundamental to any knowledge of the fate of African slaves in the Indies. The first, and less known, was published in 1627, Naturaleza, policía sagrada y profana, costumbres, ritos y supersticiones de todos los Etíopes. The second, published in 1641, was De instauranda aethiopum salute. Sandoval's indignation was soon shared by Claver.

In 1616 Claver was sent to Bogotá, where he was the first member of the Society of Jesus to be ordained. After Sandoval's transfer to another mission, Claver returned to Cartagena, probably on the recommendation of Sandoval, who must have early recognized his zeal and compassion. Claver was not only a missionary but a doctor and teacher. He greeted the incoming slave ships with his small host of interpreters. Carrying on high the holy cross, he went into the infested holds where during the long voyages epidemics and despair had taken their toll. Braving the horrible odors, the sickly atmosphere, and anxiety, Claver not only brought these slaves spiritual comfort but cured their sores, bandaged their wounds, and sometimes carried the disabled ones on his own shoulders. He first befriended the so-called savages, winning their confidence before starting on their catechization. He converted more than 300,000 by 1615.

During his lifetime he was already considered a saint. The stories of his miracles were passed from place to place through that mysterious primitive form of communication known only to those kept in bondage. In his last years, Claver suffered a paralysis that kept him at the mercy of a surly slave who vented on him his resentment and evil nature. While suffering all these trials in Christian resignation, he learned that his friend Alfonso Rodriguez was being considered for canonization, and in 1639 he learned of urban viii's bull condemning slave traffic. Claver was canonized in 1888 by Pope leo xiii.

Feast: Sept. 9.

Bibliography: a. valtierra, Peter Claver: Saint of the Slaves (Westminster, MD 1960). m. briceÑo jÁuregui, Miguel Antonio Caro y San Pedro Claver (Bogotá 1981).

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