CARTAGENA, Colombia – San Pedro Claver, the Spanish Jesuit who devoted his life to the service of the slaves who arrived at Cartagena in the 17th century, will have a role in Colombia’s signing of the peace pact with the FARC guerrillas for being a pioneer in the defense of human rights.
Upon announcing Cartagena as the site for the signing of the peace pact on Sept. 26, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos linked the date with San Pedro Claver, also known as St. Peter Claver, a “great defender of human rights,” a happy coincidence if one keeps in mind that the victims of the lengthy internal conflict were the focus of the negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels.
Pedro Claver Corbero was born in Verdu, Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, in June 1580 and was ordained a priest on March 19, 1616, in Cartagena, where he worked with slaves brought from Africa during the Spanish colonial era and died in September 1654.
His church, where his remains rest within the main altar, is located in the city’s historic center, to the side of the convent where he spent the greater part of his life and which is now a museum.
“Scarcely had the ships with the slaves arrived, when he looked from the little window of his room and said, ‘It’s Christ who is coming to me,’ and then he went with his translators and assistants and took them food, medicine, first aid, aided the dying ones in passing away, showed them a little mercy,” Father Jorge Camacho, the parish priest of the Church of San Pedro, told EFE.
Father Camacho said that one of the most telling scenes in the life of San Pedro Claver was when he visited the large “haciendas” or farms, “because he never went into the homes of the hacienda owners” and was welcomed “in the ... shacks of the ... slaves, even the most humble among them.”
According to Father Camacho, San Pedro Claver “is the precursor of the right to life, the right to nourishment, the right to health,” and his example as a model of peace is today more relevant than ever.
He said that on Sunday, just two weeks before the signing of the peace accord that will put an end to 52 years of armed internal conflict in Colombia, one must “think about the fact that peace is something that should unite us as Colombians and not put us at odds whether the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ wins” in the Oct. 2 plebiscite in which the public will decide whether or not to approve the peace agreement with the FARC.
“It seems incredible to me that in this country we have to explain that peace is better than war ... but ... we’re blind as in the epoch of San Pedro Claver, and it’s not our fault. In (his) time, we thought that slavery was ... normal,” he said.
The Colombian government has not yet confirmed that Cartagena will be the site for the signing of the peace pact, but some feel that the little plaza in front of the baroque Church of San Pedro Claver designed by German and Dutch architects, would be the ideal site for the historic encounter.