Memorial of St. Peter Claver, Priest
Today the Church commemorates a Spanish missionary who is known for his untiring ministry to Africans as they arrived in slave ships on the shores of 17th century Colombia. For nearly 40 years, Pedro Claver, “the slave of the slaves,” cared for their bodily and spiritual needs. It is estimated that he baptized 300,000 African souls in the name of Jesus Christ.
Certainly, the Beatitudes apply to this man, but San Pedro would have us reflect on them as they apply to the enslaved people he served.
Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” (Lk 6:20) Think of the countless men, women, and children whose lives were made destitute by the Transatlantic Slave Trade. From the 16th to the 19th century, about 12 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic as commodities for labor on land which itself had been exploited. Millions more never made it across, dying in transit, captivity, or during raids and revolts. Surely the Kingdom of God is theirs.
“Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.” (Lk 6:21a) Part of what fueled such an inhumane enterprise was the production of goods in the New World, which were transported to Europe. This was in repayment for goods sold to African kingdoms, who in turn supplied the labor force in the Americas. This triangular trade might never have ended, if it were not for upright leaders and the continual rebellion of the slaves themselves. Today, many of our Afro-American brothers and sisters are still hungry for justice and equality.
“Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” (Lk 6:21b) Many tears have been shed for the abuse and devastation wreaked upon the African race during the Slave Trade. It is heartening that several countries involved have issued apologies, including the United States. Yet, there is so much more that could be done. One researcher found a silver-lining amid this tragic past: the African Diaspora has enriched the world with the unique contribution of black culture, arts, and spirituality. After centuries of oppression, this mighty race is on the way up to its full and lasting redemption.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” (Lk 6:22) How fitting these words of Jesus apply to Afro-Americans today. At the same time, it is sad that they do. Jesus was not addressing a people that was being persecuted on account of their race, but this is precisely the power of the word of God: it can speak anew in today’s circumstances.
May we live the Beatitudes in our own day and way.
Reflection by Br. Luke Kral, OSB
- “Atlantic slave trade.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Aug. 2020, 19:57 (UTC). Accessed 31 Aug. 2020.
- Lewis, Thomas. “Transatlantic slave trade.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 06 Apr. 2020, Britannica. Accessed 31 Aug. 2020.
- Segal, Ronald. The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.