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April 2016

ST MARTIN DE PORRES

SHARLET FRANCIS XAVIER RECOUNTS THE LIFE OF ST MARTIN, WHO ROSE FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO SAINTHOOD.
 

HIS FAMILY

Martin was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579. He was the illegitimate son of Don Juan De Porres, a Spanish Knight and Ana Velázquez, a freed slave of African descent. After the birth of his younger sister, Juana, his father abandoned them and his mother took in washing to support her family. So, Martin grew up in a very poor home and after only two years at school, he went to work with a barber, who was also the surgeon, where he learnt some basic medical skills. In those days they believed that a lot of medical problems could be solved by cutting into the skin and releasing the bad blood from the body. So the local barber was also the surgeon. 

A SERVANT

At that time, it was impossible for anyone of African or Native Indian descent to join a religious order so when he was fifteen, Martin went to work as servant at the Dominican Friary in Lima. He worked in the kitchen and the laundry. He also looked after the sick in the monastery infirmary and organised the daily distribution of food to the poor people in the town. As Martin was used to poverty he had ingenious ways of finding the food and medicines that were needed. With his mixed race background he was often ridiculed and insulted but Martin would never retaliate. He was always humble, kind and loving. Martin lived a life of serving, fasting and prayer, spending hours at night in prayer, a practice which increased as he grew older.

A LAY BROTHER

Over the years, his faithfulness and acts of mercy were recognised by the Dominican Friars and he was allowed to become a lay brother, taking some religious vows. He continued to work in the infirmary for most of his life treating every patient, whether rich or poor with dignity and love. It is said that many miraculous cures were performed through the prayers of St Martin. When he could, he would spend many hours in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, where his brothers said he was so engrossed in communing with God, that he was completely oblivious to his surroundings. This gave him the strength to minister God’s love to the poor and the sick in his care.

A MIRACLE WORKER

Martin also loved animals and would treat sick and wounded animals at his sister's house. He never ate meat and survived on very little food. He regularly begged for alms to help the local poor people, and at one stage it is said that he was managing to feed 160 people each day on the proceeds of his begging. Through his prayer and devotion, Martin was given extraordinary gifts of grace. There are stories that when he prayed, the room was filled with a bright light that enveloped him, others tell of instantaneous cures and the remarkable rapport that he had with animals. He also founded a home for orphans and abandoned children in Lima. 

A SAINT 

During his lifetime, Martin won the affection and respect of his fellow Dominicans as well as many local people. When he died on 3rd November 1639, people were already suggesting that he would become a future Saint. So when his body was displayed for them to pay their respects, the people of Lima cut off pieces of his habit to keep as relics. It is said that three habits were taken from the body. Martin was canonized on May 6, 1962. His feast day is November 3. He is the Patron Saint of people of mixed race, innkeepers, barbers and public health workers.

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