This Spanish priest of the Society of Jesus was born in 1580. He is known as the “apostle of the slaves.” While he was still studying to become a Jesuit, he felt a burning desire to go to South America as a missionary. He volunteered and was sent to the seaport of Cartagena, in present day Colombia, where shiploads of African slaves were brought to be sold.
Peter felt great pity at the sight of those poor people, sick and suffering, all crowded together. He made up his mind to help them as much as he could. As soon as a slave ship arrived, he would go among the hundreds of sick slaves. He gave them food and medicine. He taught them about Christ and baptized those who accepted the faith. He cared for the sick. It was hard work in terrible heat. One man who went once with St. Peter could not bring himself to face the heartbreaking sight again. Yet Peter did it for forty years. He baptized some 300 thousand people. He was always there when the ships came in. He cared for and loved those who were treated so unjustly by society.
Although the slave owners tried to stop Father Claver, he taught the faith to the slaves anyway. It was slow, discouraging work. Many people criticized him, saying it was all a waste of time. They thought the slaves would never understand and keep the faith. But St. Peter was patient and he trusted that God would bless his people. He also went to visit his converts after they left Cartagena, staying in the slaves’ quarters. He wanted to see firsthand how the slaves were being treated, and what their living conditions were. The priest never stopped urging the slave owners to take care of the souls of their slaves and to become better Christians themselves.
During the last four years of his life, Father Claver was so sick that he had to stay in his room. He could not even celebrate Mass. Almost everyone forgot about him, but he never complained. Then suddenly at his death on September 8, 1654, it was as if the whole city woke up. They realized that they had lost a saint. He would never again be forgotten. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him a saint in 1888.