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St. Martin de Porres: A Brother to His Brothers

Today the Church commemorates the feast-day of St. Martin de Porres (1579 – 1639), one of the most beloved saints of popular piety throughout the world. He was born in a tiny hut in Lima, Peru, the son of a Spanish knight and a woman of African descent who had been freed from slavery. After the birth of Martin’s younger sister, his father abandoned the family, partly because he was embarrassed to be seen with his “colored” children, who belonged to a lower class in society.

Young Martin, then, was given the task of taking care of his family. He would be sent by his mother to retrieve food from the market, but Martin, moved by compassion at the sight of the poverty around him, gave away his food to the poor people of Lima. His mother beat him for his generosity, but Martin believed in his heart that serving the poor was worth the punishment. He would devote the rest of his life to serving the needs of the poor.

St. Martin is well-known for his extraordinary miracles, and his life is filled with wonderful stories of his numerous bilocations, healings, and even conversations with animals. All he did was directed to serving the poor people of Lima, who affectionately dubbed him “Father of the Poor.” St. Martin de Porres is recognized today as the patron saint of social and interracial justice.

At one level, St. Martin’s life is a wonderful story of someone who overcame the hardships of family and prejudice and ended up doing a great service to society. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and this is a perfect example – almost a spiritual rags-to-riches story. But if we stop there, we risk seriously misinterpreting the life of St. Martin de Porres. The danger is a common one – we tend to remember what people have done in their lives rather than who they are.

First, St. Martin was a Dominican, that is, he was a son of St. Dominic. He always had a great admiration for the Friars Preachers. Just as St. Catherine of Siena, who, as a young girl, would watch the Friars walk past her home and then hurry outside to kiss their footprints, Martin saw the Order with great awe and wonder. He saw it as a holy Order, under the constant care and protection of the Mother of God.

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