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Saint Martin de Porres

Saint Martín de Porres (December 9, 1579 – November 3, 1639) was a Dominican cooperator brother who was beatified in the year 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI and canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.

He was noted for tireless work on behalf of the poor, establishing an orphanage and a children's hospital. He maintained an austere lifestyle, which included fasting and abstaining from meat. His devotion to prayer was notable even by the pious standards of the age. Among the many miracles attributed to him were those of levitation, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and an ability to communicate with animals.

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[edit] Biography

The following biography is based on Roman Catholic sources.

Juan Martin de Porres was born in the city of Lima, in the Viceroyalty of Peru, on December 9, 1579, the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a young, black former slave[1] who was born in Panama. He had a sister, Juana, born in 1581. He grew up in poverty; when his mother could not support him and his sister, Martin was confided to a primary school for two years, then placed with a surgeon to learn the medical arts. This caused him great joy, though he was only ten years old, for he could exercise charity to his neighbor while earning his living. Already he was spending hours of the night in prayer, a practice which increased rather than diminished as he grew older. Until his death he would flagellate himself three times every night, for his own failings and for the conversion of pagans and sinners.

At the age of 15 he asked for admission to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima and was received first as a tertiary. He began as a servant boy, and as his duties grew he was promoted to almoner. His piety and miraculous cures led his superiors to drop the racial limits on admission to the Order, and he was made a full Dominican brother. It is said that when his priory was in debt, he implored them: "I am only a poor mulatto, sell me. I am the property of the order, sell me please!" Martin was deeply attached to the Blessed Sacrament, and he was praying in front of it one night when the step of the altar he was kneeling on caught fire. Throughout all the confusion and chaos that followed, he remained where he was, unaware of what was happening around him.[2]

When he was 24, he was given the habit of a Coadjutor Brother and assigned to the infirmary of that convent, where he was placed in charge and would remain in service until his death at the age of sixty. His superiors saw in him the virtues necessary to exercise unfailing patience in this difficult role, and he never disappointed them. It was not long before miracles were attributed to him. Saint Martin also cared for the sick outside his convent, often bringing them healing with only a simple glass of water. He begged for alms to procure for them necessities the Convent could not provide, and Providence always supplied what he sought.

One day an aged beggar, covered with ulcers and almost naked, stretched out his hand, and Saint Martin, seeing the Divine Mendicant in him, took him to his own bed. One of his brethren, considering he had gone too far in his charity, reproved him. Saint Martin replied: “Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”

When an epidemic struck Lima, there were in this single Convent of the Rosary sixty religious who were sick, many of them novices in a distant and locked section of the convent, separated from the professed. Saint Martin is said to have passed through the locked doors to care for them, a phenomenon which was reported in the residence more than once. The professed, too, saw him suddenly beside them without the doors having been opened; and these facts were duly verified by the surprised superiors. Martin continued to transport the sick to the convent until the provincial superior, alarmed by the contagion threatening the religious, forbade him to continue to do so. His sister, who lived in the country, offered her house to lodge those whom the residence of the religious could not hold. One day he found on the street a poor Indian, bleeding to death from a dagger wound, and took him to his own room until he could transport him to his sister’s hospice. The superior, when he heard of this, reprimanded his subject for disobedience. He was extremely edified by his reply: “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” The superior gave him liberty thereafter to follow his inspirations in the exercise of mercy.

In normal times Saint Martin succeeded with his alms to feed 160 poor persons every day, and distributed a remarkable sum of money every week to the indigent — the latter phenomenon hard to explain by ordinary calculations. To Saint Martin the city of Lima owed a famous residence founded for orphans and abandoned children, where they were formed in piety for a creative Christian life. This lay brother had always wanted to be a missionary, but never left his native city; yet even during his lifetime he was seen elsewhere, in regions as far distant as Africa, China, Algeria and Japan. An African slave who had been in irons said he had known Martin when he came to relieve and console many like himself, telling them of heaven. When later the same slave saw him in Peru, he was very happy to meet him again and asked him if he had had a good voyage; only later did he learn that Saint Martin had never left Lima. A merchant from Lima was in Mexico and fell ill; he said aloud: “Oh, Brother Martin, if only you were here to care for me!” and immediately saw him enter his room. And again, this man did not know until later that he had never been in Mexico.

[edit] Death and commemoration

Martin was a friend of both Saint John de Massias and Saint Rose of Lima. When he died in Lima on November 3, 1639, Martin was known to the entire city. Word of his miracles had made him known as a saint throughout the region. As his body was displayed to allow the people of the city to pay their respects, each person snipped a tiny piece of his habit to keep as a relic. It is said that three habits were taken from the body. His body was then interred in the grounds of the monastery.

After he died, the miracles and graces received when he was invoked multiplied in such profusion that his body was exhumed after 25 years and said to be found intact, and exhaling a fine fragrance. Letters to Rome pleaded for his beatification; the decree affirming the heroism of his virtues was issued in 1763 by Pope Clement XIII. Pope Gregory XVI beatified Martin de Porres in the year 1837. Nearly one hundred and twenty five years later Blessed Martin was canonized in Rome by Pope John XXIII on May 6, 1962. His feast day is November 3rd. He is the Patron Saint of people of mixed race, innkeepers, public health and more besides.

San Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Laredo, Texas

In iconography, Martin de Porres is often depicted as a young mulatto friar (he was a Dominican brother, not a priest, as evidenced by the black scapular and capuce he wears, while priests of the Dominican order wear all white) with a broom, since he considered all work to be sacred no matter how menial. He is sometimes shown with a dog, a cat and a mouse, eating in peace from their dish.

Today, Saint Martin is commemorated by, among other things, a programme of work named after him at the Las Casas Institute at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.[3]

[edit] References

  1. ^ "St. Martin de Porres, the first black saint in the Americas!" African American Registry.
  2. ^ Biography in "The Saint Martin De Porres Prayer Book", p147-152.
  3. ^ Las Casas Institute at Blackfriars Hall website

[edit] External links

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