|Saint Martin de Porres has been given many titles over the years including Apostle of Charity, Saint of the Slaves, Patron of the Negroes, Patron of Social Justice, and others, all true, all describing one or more of his attributes, but none actually goes to the heart of who this Saint was. He was love; he was Christian; he was truly son of the Father, brother of the Son, and vessel of the Holy Spirit.
It’s hard to describe all the charisms of St. Martin de Porres, or cover all the gifts he received from the Lord. The more we read about him, the more we realize what a powerful instrument of God he was. He had the gifts of bilocation, healing, multiplication of food, reading men’s minds, raising the dead, levitation, ecstasy, visions, inner locution; it goes on and on. Martin de Porres was one of the most powerful and yet one of the gentlest Saints in the history of our Church, and without doubt, a true disciple of the Lord in the New World. We will try to give you just a taste of how the Lord worked in this hemisphere through this Saint.
Martin de Porres was born in 1579, in Lima, Peru. It was only 83 years after Columbus placed a small Spanish flag on the island of San Salvador, claiming it and the entire new world for the Catholic Queen, Isabella, as it was she who had financed this expedition in thanksgiving to God for deliverance of Spain from the Moors. In 1535, the city of Lima was founded, and in 1551, the Dominicans began a university there. [An aside, the Dominicans were the first order of religious to preach the gospel in Peru.]
Martin de Porres was born of John de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and Knight of the Order of Alcantara, and a black free woman, Anna Velazquez. Martin’s father was not very happy to find his child was black. He did not want to be connected with the child in any way. As a matter of fact, on the baptismal record there was no mention of the father at all. The Baptismal certificates read only “Martin, son of an unknown father.” But some years later, he officially acknowledged Martin as being his son. We’re not sure if John ever married Anna Velazquez. If he did, he didn’t treat her very well. He spent most of his time in other countries, leaving Anna and the children, Martin and his sister Joan to fend for themselves. Though Martin was not from a poor background, you would not have known it by the way he and his family lived. They were always at least borderline poverty, and sometimes full-blown poverty.
But none of this had any detrimental effect on Martin. If anything, it gave him an understanding and empathy for his poor brothers and sisters. From his earliest days, he focused completely on his Lord present in the tabernacle of all the churches of Lima and in helping out the poor. His mother became furious with him in the early days. She would send Martin shopping for food, entrusting to him the meager pennies the family had, just enough to get some bread and a few necessities to see them through their meals. Martin inevitably took the money and gave it to the poor. When he returned home with nothing in his basket, his mother would let him have it. “How can you give to the poor? We are the poor! It’s bad enough that you will not eat today, but what of your sister and me? We didn’t volunteer to starve!”
He got lost in the churches. This was his most favorite time. When he entered the dark, cool church, the entire world was left outside. He was in a haven. He spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament, before the Crucifix looming high on the altar or a statue or painting of Our Lady. This was truly his home. He was an orphan on pilgrimage, journeying through this time on earth in preparation for his trip to his heavenly Home in Paradise.
Although John de Porres only came to Lima on very rare occasions, he must have been shamed by his relatives or neighbors who could see the way Anna and the two children were living. They needed some kind of home, education, food and clothes. Anna also had need, but John had never cared much about her well-being, so it was not thought that he would now spend any amount of time and money, taking care of her or her children. Never mind that he was the father. Although he had finally recognized them as his own, his behavior towards them was the same as towards a slave. However, when Martin was about eight years old, the father came and took him and his sister back to Ecuador with him, which was where he was living at that time. The children went to school; they were fed and clothed properly. The father actually admitted to being the parent of both children to his various relatives whom they met in the few years they lived in Ecuador.