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Meet the spirit of
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placeholder December 12, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA

St. Peter Claver was born in Catalonia, Spain, in 1581, joined the Jesuits at the age of 20, and set out for the Americas to spread the Word of God, arriving in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1610. He worked among the African slaves for 44 years, until his death.
Courtesy photo

Meet the spirit of St. Peter Claver in Colombia

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ

Very Rev. James Matthews

Rev. Olman Solis

On behalf of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, and Rev. Olman Solis, I would like to invite you to join the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver of Northern California as we travel to the center of the slave trade in the Americas of the 16th and 17th centuries in Cartagena, Colombia. As we set foot on the soil of this rich port city washed by the Caribbean, we meet the spirit of St. Peter Claver.

A native of Spain, the young Jesuit, Peter Claver, left his homeland forever in 1610 to become a missionary in the colonies of the New World. He was ordained a priest in Cartagena in 16 15 and spent the next 39 years in the service of the slaves, declaring himself: "the slave of the slaves forever."

As soon as a slave ship entered the port, Peter Claver moved into its' infested hold to minister to the miserable passengers with medicines, food, bread, brandy, lemons and tobacco. With the help of interpreters, Peter Claver gave basic instructions and assured his brothers and sisters of their human dignity and God's saving love.

During his time in Cartagena, Peter Claver instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves. He died on Sept. 8, 1654, and the city magistrates who had previously frowned at Peter Claver's solicitude for the black outcasts, ordered that he should be buried at expense and with great pomp. He was canonized in 1888, and Pope Leo XIII declared him the worldwide patron of missionary work among black people.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to accompany my priest friend, Father Giles Conwill, to Cartagena and Panama. He was commissioned by the Supreme Knight and Supreme Lady of the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver to research and write the official biography of St. Peter Claver and our noble order in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Knights in 2009.

I was deeply moved as I visited the church of San Pedro Claver, where his body rests. I felt so much history flowing in my mind and heart.

Knowing that some of my ancestors travelled to the New World in the middle passage and landed in Louisiana, my Catholic roots went back many generations and became the inspiration of my vocation to priesthood. This wonderful fraternal organization, founded as a response to segregation in our society and church in 1909; recognized Black Catholic men and women who remained loyal to family and church, and who became the prophetic voice of the community that "they all be one." (John 17:21)

Our eight days of pilgrimage will be filled with history, prayer, beautiful sights, sounds and cultural immersion. And as an added bonus, if you have ever dreamt about the passageway of the Panama Canal, here's your opportunity to experience the Miraflores of the canal's most impressive three locks.

We are very pleased that Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, will join us for a couple of days to celebrate Mass at San Pedro Claver Church and to share with us the Jesuit presence in Cartagena these past 400 years. Please plan to join us between June 5-12, 2017, on a most wonderful spiritual journey.

(Very Reverend James Matthews is rector of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland.)

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