Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest

The recent revelations about the Society of Jesus holding and selling slaves may give an unbalanced view of the Jesuits and their work among different types of people.  The story of the Jesuit’s relation in terms of race, and the very use of the term inaugurates all sorts of problems, is a complex but in many cases an inspiring story. Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Peter Claver (1580-1654), a Jesuit who spent decades of his life working and caring for the slaves who came to port in Cartagena, Columbia. Joined in spirit by his Jesuit brothers throughout the globe, these faithful Jesuits saw no distinction in color and heritage but instead saw each and every person as sanctified and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Perhaps the most beautiful understanding of differences in race was painted by the Jesuit Andrea Pozzo in the late 17th century for the Church of St. Ignatius, the “student chapel” for the great Roman College. In this vast view of the heavens portrayed by Pozzo, the four corners of the ceiling are populated by various peoples from Asia, Africa, the New World, and Africa. All these nations are portrayed in their native dress (or lack thereof) and all move in equal space and time towards Jesus carrying the cross. The message to the students at the College was clear: the salvific work of Christ is for all men and women and difference made no difference. The Jesuit story dealing with race is marked with light and shadow but today’s saint certainly shines as one of our greatest lights.

September 9th, 2017