St Peter Claver, St Ciaran

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Missionary and patron saint of the African slaves. The son of a Catalonian farmer, Peter Claver was born at Verdu, in 1581. He obtained his first degrees at the University of Barcelona. At the age of 20 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona. While he was studying philosophy at Majorca in 1605, Alphonsus Rodriguez, the door-keeper of the college, advised him to set out to evangelize the Spanish colonies in America. Peter followed this advice, and in 1610 landed at Cartagena, now Colombia, where he went on to minister to slaves for the next 44 years.

Cartagena was the chief slave-market of the New World. A thousand slaves captured in Guinea, the Congo, and Angola were shipped there each month. Conditions on the ships were so bad that half of the slaves died before they reached land.

When Peter Claver saw what was happening he said he wanted to be "the slave of the negroes forever".

Although he was a shy man and lacked confidence, he became a daring campaigner on behalf of the slaves and worked tirelessly to help them. Every month when the arrival of the negroes was signalled, Claver went out to meet them on the pilot's boat, carrying food, medicines and water.

While the slaves were penned up at Cartagena waiting to be purchased and dispersed, Claver instructed and baptized them. He then did all he could to follow up what happened to each individual as they were sent to the mines and plantations. He also went to visit British prisoners captured on marauding ships. Peter spent much of his time in the city jails, whose inmates included prisoners of the Inquisition.

The slave merchants soon became his enemies and people in high society shunned the churches where he brought the slaves, although one Spanish lady, Isabel de Urbina always supported him.

He spirit was unbroken by the last four years of his life when he was left alone in a small room, half paralysed and in pain. An African servant that was asked to looked after him treated him very unkindly. But when visitors voiced their concern, he said: "my sins deserve more punishment than this."

Peter Claver died on 8 September, 1654. During his life he baptized and instructed more than 300,000 Africans. He was beatified on 16 July, 1850, by Pius IX, and canonized 15 January, 1888, by Leo XIII. On 7 July, 1896, he was proclaimed the special patron of all the Catholic missions among the Africans. Alphonsus Rodriguez was canonized on the same day as Peter Claver.

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St Ciaran of Clonmacnoise

Abbot. St Ciaran was born around 512, the son of a travelling carpenter from Connaught. He studied under St Finnian, taking a dun cow with him for milk. Later he became a monk on Arran island where he was taught by St Enda, and ordained priest in 534. He then moved to Senan on Slattery Island. Finally he settled at Clonmacnoise on the River Shannon in Co Meath, where he founded a monastery with ten companions. Ciaran helped with the building work but died before it was finished.He was only 33.

Many stories are told of St Ciaran. It is said he had a tame fox which used to carry his satchel. One community of monks found that because he was so generous to all and sundry, it put a great strain on the community resources and they said to him: "Go away, for we cannot suffer you here with us."

Clonmacnoise became one of the greatest centres of learning in Ireland. It survived Viking raids and plunderings during various Irish and Anglo Norman wars, continuing until 1552. Some ruins still exist. The Clonmacnoise crozier can be seen at the National Museum in Dublin.

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