SOCIAL JUSTICE – rcsocialjustice.org
By Amílcar Sanatan, CCSJ Board member
In Lima, Peru, a woman, holding a plastic rosary, like the ones my aunts and grandmother held, stood before a statue of the dark-skinned Peruvian saint offering a petition.
After hours of walking through the city, visiting art galleries, museums, and churches, I took the time to rest in the gallery of a church where the woman fixated her eyes on St Martin de Porres.
She was visibly in pain. She cried, prayed, and asked God for the forgiveness of her sins and for those who wronged her.
Many like her in Peru, and throughout the Caribbean and Americas, express devotion to the miraculous figure and life of St Martin de Porres.
The saint was born into a 16th century colonial city, Lima, where indigenous people and the poor laboured tirelessly in service of their colonisers and the wealthy from Spain and other settlers from Europe.
The well-off prayed in churches that portrayed the victory of colonisers against the first and native custodians of the land in their art. The colonisers also lived in homes of grandiosity, built with the hands of the oppressed.
These are the people who worshipped a God that, they felt, saw conquest as the natural quest for civilising “other peoples” through Christianity.
As a multiethnic saint, of Spanish and African heritage, with dark skin, doors of the social order and even the religious order were closed to St Martin de Porres. In colonial societies, descendants of Indigenous Peoples and Africans were prevented from holding titles in religious leadership.
As an adolescent, he was admitted to the Convent of Santo Domingo as a servant. For this reason, he is commonly depicted with a broom and is also referred to as the “saint of the broom”.
St Martin was also known as a healer of physical and spiritual wounds. He was noted for his commitment to the poor, promoting dignity in the life of children and developing deep bonds with animals. In 1603, when St Martin was 24, he was admitted as a Dominican lay brother.
Now part of Peru’s tourism product, the canonised servant is a symbol for humility, perseverance, and resilience in the face of injustice globally. As a multiethnic saint, he provides an example of hope for those who continue to be excluded by a sociopolitical system that largely excludes people on status, level of schooling, and ethnic background in Peru.
The hegemony of Spanish culture in everyday life upholds values and status associated with Europe over Peruvian and Latin American expressions to this day.
The ongoing political conflict in the nation also has undercurrents of ethnic conflict, where most of the population, en masse do not feel socially and politically respected and included in the structure of the State.
As a child, my eyes were fixed on the image of St Martin de Porres at the church in San Juan. For all the iconography around me, I connected with the saint who looked like me, had my hair texture and embodied a stillness that I already came to learn in the face of injustice and hardship.
Children of multiethnic heritage are born into a world that still gives platforms to speakers obsessed with ethnic “purity”. The poor who work in “menial” tasks are often the recipients of our contempt and insults, at multiple levels.
And, there is a Church that can take for granted the power and miracles of regions where Black and Brown people carry the weight of the institution.
St Martin de Porres is a saint for all times, and he will continue to provide absolution to those who seek a just path through and beyond their personal and systemic pains.
SOCIAL JUSTICE QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
“When tragic events seem to overwhelm our lives, and we feel plunged into a dark and difficult maelstrom of injustice and suffering, we are likewise called to keep our hearts open to hope and to trust in God, who makes himself present, accompanies us with tenderness, sustains us in our weariness and, above all, guides our path (1)
Pope Francis, World Day of Peace 2023
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee