A Jesuit priest, Saint Peter Claver worked among the slaves of South America becoming patron saint of slaves.

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Peter Claver was born in 1580 in Spain. In 1602, he entered the Society of Jesus and on completing his novitiate, he wrote: “I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave”.

He arrived in South America in 1610 and resided in Cartagena, which was the center of the slave trade. About ten thousand slaves arrived in this port city in South America annually, transported like cattle from Africa. The conditions of transport were so bad that about one third of the slaves died on route. In 1622, Claver was ordained and took as his slogan: “Servant of the African forever”.

Claver would board the slave galleys and enter the pens in which they were held in order to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of this terrified and humiliated population. It is estimated that he baptized hundreds of thousands of Africans in the years of his ministry.

His tireless work led to the improvement in conditions for the slaves as he tried to convince his fellow Spaniards in the colonies that the Africans were fellow Christians and not animals. He died in 1654 and was canonized in 1888, proclaimed patron saint of slaves.

It is worth noting on his feast that slavery still exists in its traditional form and that our modern society has developed new forms of slavery, where human beings work for others with no rights and no dignity. Pray for us, Saint Peter Claver.