Pope Francis honours Jesuit saint

The pope in Cartagena, Credit L'Osservatore Romano
The pope in Cartagena, Credit L'Osservatore Romano

Saturday was the memorial of the 17th century Jesuit missionary St Peter Claver and it was marked in a very special way this year as Pope Francis rounded off his visit to Colombia by praying at his tomb in the port town of Cartagena. 

Cartagena was a major slave port in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Peter Claver, the self-described 'slave of the slaves forever,' worked daily to minister to the needs of the 10,000 slaves who arrived each year.  He would board slave ships with fresh food and minister to slaves as a priest, doctor and teacher. He would give short instruction in the Catholic faith and baptize as many as he could. In this way he could prevail on the slave owners to give humane treatment to fellow Christians. Peter Claver baptized more than 300,000 slaves in the 35 years of his ministry.

Claver  was described by the pope as  “austere and charitable to the point of heroism”,

The pope drew parallels between the church’s work and that of Peter Claver, who is the patron saint of interracial justice and African missionaries.  He said Claver’s legacy should serve as a model for the Catholic Church today to 'promote the dignity of all our brothers and sisters, particularly the poor and the excluded of society, those who are abandoned, immigrants and those who suffer violence and human trafficking.'

Like Claver, the first Latin American and the first Jesuit pope has made a point of ministering those on the outer margins of society. He has on many previous occasions strongly denounced modern slavery, calling human trafficking a crime against humanity and inspiring other faith leaders to follow his example.

“Here in Colombia and in the world, millions of people are still being sold as slaves,” Pope Francis declared . “They either beg for some expressions of humanity, moments of tenderness, or they flee by sea or land because they have lost everything, primarily their dignity and their rights.”

Whilst in Cartagena Pope Francis laid the foundation for new residences for homeless people.

The visit to Cartagena ended a five-day visit to Colombia  whose key message was for reconciliation between victims of Colombia's long-running conflict and former guerrillas and paramilitary fighters.

In remarks added into his Sunday prayer, Francis called for an end to political violence and protection for the poor in neighbouring Venezuela, home country of the Jesuit General Superior Fr Arturo Sosa SJ: “the rejection of all violence in political life and for a solution to the current grave crisis, which affects everyone, particularly the poorest and most disadvantaged of society.”