If anyone wants to follow the road of saintliness, they should perform their duty righteously in God’s will and also cultivate the highest of virtues, modesty. This is exactly the road taken by Juan Martin de Porres Velázquez (Martin of the poor). We commemorate him on November 3rd, on the anniversary of his death in 1639!
Unknown to most of us, Saint. Martin de Porres, the first black Saint of the Catholic Church, was born in Lima, Peru’s capital on December 9th, 1579.
He was the illegitimate son to a Spanish gentleman Don Juan de Porres and a freed slave, Ana Velázquez from Panama, of African-American descent.
Following his sister’s birth, in 1859, Martin’s father abandoned the family, leaving them to grow up in deep poverty, while his wife supported the family taking in laundry. Still at a young age, Martin was placed with a barber/surgeon where he would learn to cut hair and the medical arts.
When Martin was 15, he was received as a servant boy into the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima, based on local law stipulating that all descendants of African or Indians were not allowed to become full members of religious orders. During his time in the Convent, Martin took on his old trade of barbering, which he professed until his death, firmly believing that any task is sacred. He also worked in the kitchen, did laundry, sewed and cleaned. Outside the Convent, he would take care of his sick fellow human beings, mostly Indian natives or men of color. Eight years later, the Convent’s prior decided to defy the law and Martin was granted the privilege to take his vows as a full member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic.
He was mainly concerned with taking after the diseased and their healing. He took care of everyone from the Spanish nobles to the African slaves recently brought from Africa. He would even carry many amongst them into his own home, while he would manage to feed daily some 160 destitute and offer them a substantial sum on a weekly basis, all thanks to charity. His superiors saw his virtues and his patience in his tough mission as a healer. It is even said that he had performed many miraculous healings, while serving at the Convent’s infirmary, from the age of 34 until the end of his life.
Many unfortunate people reached to the devoted monk “Martin of Love” for their material and spiritual needs. Though he lacked any theological education, even priests and bishops longed for his advice. He was renowned for his work in favor of the poor, founding an orphanage and a children’s hospital. He maintained an austere lifestyle, fasting and abstaining from meat. It is said he had many extraordinary abilities, including miraculous knowledge, instant cures and the ability to communicate with animals.
He passed away at the age of 59, gaining the love and respect of his compatriots, for his modesty and caring after the poor and the diseased, by virtue of social justice, an ideal resonating in our church, which is carried forward to the modern world as our Organization’s fundamental basis.
His work and miracles gave him recognition as a saint in his native town’s broader area. Following his death, scores of people sent letters to the Vatican asking for his canonizing. In 1763, Pope Clement XIII issued a decree recognizing his virtues, while 199 years later, Pope John XXIII finally canonized him on May 6th 1962, in Rome.
Saint Martin is the patron saint of Caritas, mixed race, public health workers, those who seek racial harmony, barbers and nurseries.
He is often depicted in the company of a dog, a cat, a mouse and birds, all eating in harmony from the same dish, for his remarkable relationship with animals!
For his life, work and miracles, but mostly for his modesty, many Spanish-speaking movies and series are filmed. Among them “Fray Escoba” (1963) and “Un mulato llamado Martin” (1975).