One part of the Liturgy of the Hours—the official prayer system of the Church which is recommended to all of us and is required of those in Holy Orders and religious vows—is what is called “the Office of Readings.” In today’s liturgy, we celebrate Saint Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest from Spain who came to South America back in the colonial days and spent his life trying to improve the lot of the African slaves who were brought over on the slave ships and sold into bondage to work on the plantations and in the mines of Colombia. He writes in his memoirs of the conditions that prevailed among those terribly unfortunate people. They were kidnapped from the interior parts of Africa by the natives who lived along the coast. These coastal dwellers in turn sold them to the white ship owners who ran a slave industry, packing them into ships for the journey across the Atlantic and then selling those who survived that ordeal to the slave traders in South America. It is a heartbreaking story of man’s inhumanity to man and reminds me of the horrors of the Nazi holocaust which ran a death industry, trying to kill every Jew in Europe during the years when Naziism was in control there.
Saint Peter Claver, in his writings, describes meeting the slave ships in the Colombian port city of Cartagena with baskets of fruit and other food, but above all, with love and concern for them which contrasted so sharply with the cruelty shown the Africans by the slave dealers and traders who saw them only in terms of how much profit they could bring in. He says that when the newly-arrived slaves were brought ashore, having no idea of what awaited them on this side of the world, they would respond so gratefully to the saint and his companions who did what they could to help them and improve their lot. Since the two groups did not speak the same language, “we communicated not with words, but with deeds and acts of mercy.”
Let us be sure that others will see in our eyes and our actions the love of Christ which reaches out to them and makes us living gospels of Christianity for them to read and to appreciate. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.