St Peter Claver SJ (1581-1654)
St Peter Claver SJ (1581-1654)

Peter Claver SJ

A Spanish Jesuit missionary priest who devoted his apostolic life ministering to African slaves in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), one of the ports in South America used for slave trading. The slaves were hunted as an animal, mostly in Congo and Angola, and then sold or bartered for goods. After crossing the Atlantic from West Africa under conditions so foul that an estimated one-third died in transit, they were marketed in Cartagena to work in the gold and silver mines.

Peter Claver was deeply disturbed by the harsh treatment and living conditions of the black slaves who were brought from Africa. Even though Claver found some opposition from his fellows Jesuits in Cartagena for ministering to the black slaves and criticising white traders, he continued his apostolate inspired by the example of Fr Alfonso Sandoval SJ who had served slaves many years before.

At that time he was called “the apostle of slaves” or “the slaves’ slave”.

Peter Claver is the patron of human rights in Colombia. Of course, during his lifetime no one had in mind what we understand today by human rights. However, there is a very important issue to take into account. Saint Peter Claver was very anxious to baptise slaves to bring them into the Christian world. That allowed him to request that traders and “owners” should treat slaves as Christians. For Peter Claver, being a Christian meant having rights. Not civil rights at that time, but Christian rights.

Peter Claver has left a huge legacy for humanity. To treat one another respecting the dignity every human being deserves. Regardless of their skin colour, religion, politics, ethnicity, nationality or different way of thinking.

He took his apostolate to the frontier where faith and justice work together.