Saint Peter Claver, known to Spanish-speaking people as San Pedro Claver Corbero, was born near Barcelona, Spain on June 26, 1580. He was very pious from a young age and entered the Jesuit novitiate when he was twenty-two. While in the seminary, he met the future Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532-1617), a missionary who inspired Peter to serve the black slaves which had been pouring into the “civilized” world for nearly one hundred years.
In April of 1610, Peter came to Cartagena in modern Columbia. Cartagena was the foremost slave port in the New World and an estimated ten thousand slaves arrived there every year. Peter personally tended their wounds, gave them food, and, with the help of an interpreter, taught them about Jesus Christ. He had openly vowed to be the “slave of the slaves forever”.
Needless to say, Peter made mortal enemies of the slave traders. Although slavery had been formally condemned in 1537 by Pope Paul III (1468-1549) in his papal bull Sublimus Dei, Peter was also attacked by Church members who claimed that Negroes are not human beings and, therefore, do not have souls. Consequently, they felt that it was a desecration if Peter administered the sacraments to slaves. It should be noted that Paul III clearly stated that all people, regardless of race, are human beings endowed with immortal souls.
Peter was ordained by the bishop of Cartagena in 1616. He would remain in the city a total of forty years. It is estimated that he ministered to at least three hundred thousand slaves. He also ministered to sailors and tried to convert the slave traders as well as the Protestant members of the upper class.
Around the year 1650, he became extremely ill, most likely the result of his many years of hard service, and was confined to bed. Saint Peter Claver died on September 8, 1654. After his death, the entire city, including politicians and other people who did not think well of him in life, mourned the loss of their holy priest.
Saint Peter Claver was beatified by Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) on July 16, 1850 and was canonized by Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) on January 15, 1888.
He is the patron saint of Columbia and also of slaves and African Americans. In 1896, he was declared the patron of all Catholic missions to Africans. His feast day is September 9.