I didn’t get to see much world news during the past five days; the committee work in which I was engaged – as well as the 3-hour time difference 3,000 miles from home – was all-consuming of my time. In catching up last night upon my return home, my happiest moment was seeing all the Syrian and other refugees who had finally been able to board trains and arrive in Germany and to hear the plans of some European countries to welcome large numbers in the future. While only preliminary, this report offers hope to those in dire need.
Although a totally different situation (abhorrent to us now) in a very different time (the 1600s), the story of Peter Claver, the saint remembered today, struck a similar chord in me. It was not the response of countries to a dire need but only one missionary in what is today the South American country of Colombia who ministered to hundreds of slaves imported from West Africa for over 40 years. The conditions of their transit sounded similar as about one-third of the people died in transit, but these people continued to be treated as sub-human and Peter Claver became “the apostle of Cartagena” caring for their needs with food and medicines as well as assurance of their human dignity and God’s love. He also preached this message to all classes of society and “practiced what he preached” by lodging in slave quarters rather than accepting the hospitality of plantation owners. Peter Claver’s belief was concretized in his often repeated statement about missionary work that we must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips.
Today, as the world faces numerous crises of mistreatment and abuse of the poorest and rejected in societies around the world, we would be wise to remember the example of Peter Claver and reflect on a personal response to the perennial question: Who is my neighbor?