From the Desk of Bishop Braxton
ST. MARTIN DE PORRES
November 3, 2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Today, the Church honors St Martin de Porres Velázquez, O.P. (December 9, 1579 – November 3, 1639), a lay brother of the Dominican Order, who was beatified in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI and canonized in 1962 by Pope John XXIII. He is the patron saint of bi-racial people and all those seeking racial harmony. He was born in the city of Lima, Peru, the son of a Spanish nobleman, Don Juan de Porres, and Ana Velázquez, an enslaved free woman. Since his mother could not support him, he grew up in poverty.
By law in Peru, descendants of African people were barred from becoming full members of any religious order. The only route open to Martin was to ask the Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima to accept him as a volunteer who performed menial tasks in the monastery, in return for the privilege of wearing the habit and living with the religious community. At the age of 15, he asked for admission to the Dominican Convent and was received as a servant boy.
After eight years, the Prior decided to turn a blind eye to the law of racial exclusion and permit Martin to take his vows as a member of the Third Order. Because of his bi-racial ancestry, and the fact that his father never married his mother, many members of the community called Martin a mulatto dog.”
When Martin was 24, he was allowed to profess religious vows as a Dominican lay brother. Ten years later, after he had been given the religious habit of a lay brother, he was assigned to the infirmary where he was placed in charge and would remain in service to the sick and the dying until his death at the age of 59.
He ministered without distinction to Spanish nobles and to enslaved free human beings exiting the ships from West Africa. One day an aged beggar, covered with ulcers and almost naked, stretched out his hand and Martin took him to his own bed. The Prior reproved him. Martin replied: "Compassion, my dear Prior, is preferable to cleanliness."
As we contemplate St. Martin’s struggles in the Church as a bi-racial human being and his devotion to the poor and the oppressed, I am sharing with you the essay below. It will be published next week in The British Catholic Herald, the largest Catholic newspaper in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. It is food for thought.
St. Martin de Porres, pray for us!
The Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton,
Bishop of Belleville