A native of Spain, young Jesuit Peter Claver left his homeland forever in 1610 to be a missionary in the colonies of the New World. He sailed into Cartagena, a rich port city and chief center for the slave trade. He was ordained there in 1615. Although the practice of slave-trading was condemned by Pope Paul III and later labeled “supreme villainy” by Pope Pius IX, it continued to flourish.
As soon as a slave ship entered the port, Peter Claver moved into its infested hold to minister to the ill-treated and exhausted passengers. Claver brought them medicines, food, bread, brandy, lemons, and tobacco. With the help of interpreters he gave basic instructions and assured his brothers and sisters of their human dignity and God’s love. Fr. Claver’s apostolate extended beyond his care for enslaved people. He became a moral force, indeed, the apostle of Cartagena. He preached in the city square, gave missions to sailors and traders as well as country missions, during which he avoided, when possible, the hospitality of the planters and owners and lodged in the slave quarters instead.
After four years of sickness, Claver died on September 8, 1654.