St. Martin de Porres, the first black saint of the Americas of late sixteenth century, was a Peruvian Dominican friar, honoured by many for his services to humanity. He had a very difficult childhood, not only having to deal with miserable poverty, but also with social harassment because of his mixed racial heritage and illegitimate birth. He had to overcome racism and discrimination to see his dream of serving God by devoutly helping others come true. He is the saint of race relations and social justice.
Martin is an example of how no life is too small when it is given over to Christ. Our Lord does great things with the poor and the rich. Oftentimes it is the former who are cognizant of the call of Christ and are able to serve Him completely. Born and reared in rejection and poverty, much like Christ, he learned lessons to fight poverty of all forms. He fostered a life of prayer, devotion and service.
Pope St. John XXIII affirmed Martin’s name as Martin of Charity: “He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm labourers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin of Charity.’”
Many of Martin’s nights were spent in prayer and penitential practices; his days were filled with nursing the sick and caring for the poor. It was particularly impressive that he treated all people regardless of their colour, race, or status. He was instrumental in founding an orphanage, took care of slaves brought from Africa, and managed the daily alms of the priory with practicality, as well as generosity. He became the procurator for both priory and city, whether it was a matter of “blankets, shirts, candles, candy, miracles or prayers!” When his priory was in debt, he said, “I am only a poor mulatto. Sell me. I am the property of the Order. Sell me.” He desired to be ransomed.
We, the Christians, are called to live out our Baptismal promises through charity, selflessness, and prayer. We are all called to be saints, missionaries of charity and combatants of injustices. We are called to sanctify the world and bring all peoples to Christ through the Church. Church’s dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium 33 teaches: “The lay apostolate is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation, all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished.
Now the laity is called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layperson, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him/her, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself ‘according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal’.” How do we look at and serve others? Racism is another poverty and a sin almost nobody confesses. Like pollution, it is a “sin of the world” that is everybody’s responsibility but apparently nobody’s fault.
One could hardly imagine a more fitting patron of Christian justice and mercy than Martin de Porres on the part of those discriminated persons and on the part of reformed racists.
Looking at Martin’s lesson of charity, selflessness, prayer, and healing, we see examples of how we can serve. Our lives must be centred, focused, and driven by prayer and the Sacraments. It is impossible to accomplish the work Christ is calling us to, or the mission of becoming a saint, without prayer. In prayer we become like Jesus.
Charity fights poverty. We can bring healing to others by forgiving old grudges and wounds, visiting and serving the sick in the hospital or in our own families and, moreover, to love every rich and poor human as our brother and sister for we have only one Father in heaven.
We can also bring Christ to others so that the wounds of sin and death can be healed in the lost. St. Martin de Porres’ extraordinary witness and example; helps light the way for each one of us as we keep our eyes fixed on the crown of glory that awaits us in the words: “Well done good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:23).