Friday, February 21, 2014



                                 Saint Martin de Porres (1579-1639) is also known as ‘Martin of Charity’ and ‘Saint of the Broom’ as he willingly and joyfully embraced any work, no matter how menial. Saint Martin led a life of austerity, love, service, and social justice with profound humility.

                                 Martin was born in Lima, Peru in 1579, during the period of Spanish colonization. He was born of mixed race; his father was a Spanish noble man, and his mother, Ana Velázquez, was a freed slave with dark complexion. Early in his childhood, Martin suffered the ill-effects of racial discrimination when his father, who was ashamed of Martin’s dark complexion, abandoned him, his mother and his younger sister, Juana. But bitter experiences instilled a spirit of humility and not of hostility in him.

                                  Martin grew up in poverty. After a short primary education, at the age of 10, he was apprenticed to a surgeon to learn the medical arts. Martin was overjoyed with this assignment, as it provided him an opportunity to exercise charity to his neighbors, while at the same time earning a little money to support his struggling mother and younger sister. Martin  spent long hours in prayer, penance and austerities.

                                 As a young man, Martin begged admission to the Dominican monastery of the Rosary in Lima, Peru. He was received first as a tertiary at age 15. After several years, he was given the habit of a Coadjutor Brother (lay brother) and assigned to the infirmary (place for the sick) of that monastery. There, Martin offered humble service, providing whatever task—however menial—that was needed, until his death at the age of sixty. He considered all varieties of work to be sacred and is often depicted, carrying a broom in his hands. He was an example of patience, humility, love and charity. But Saint Martin did not limit his work to the wards of the infirmary. He moved beyond the walls, tending to the poor, sick and marginalized people at their residence.

                                 He was always the first one to rise, and the last one to sleep, filling his days with constant prayer and sincere service. He was instrumental in founding an orphanage for the poor children of Lima. No one was turned away from his aid, and he accepted all as they were, placing their needs above his own. One day, an aged beggar, covered with ulcers and almost naked, stretched out his hand towards Saint Martin. Moved by Christian charity, Martin laid the filthy man on his own bed and nursed him. One of his colleagues reproved him for this action. Saint Martin replied: “Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”

                                 His Superiors forbade him to continue bringing the sick to the monastery for assistance and care. Martin continued to treat them, with his sister providing lodging to those the monastery could not accommodate. One day, he discovered a poor man on the streets of Lima, bleeding to death from a dagger wound. As his sister’s home was far and the poor man needed immediate medical attention to save his life, he took the man to the monastery, lodging him in his own room. His Superior, when he heard of this, reprimanded Martin for disobedience, but was surprised at his response. Saint Martin said sincerely: “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” Enlightened by his wise words, his Superior gave him liberty to follow his inspirations in the exercise of mercy.

                                 With the assistance of Saint Rose of Lima, he raised the poor and marginalized of Lima from desolation into the light and faith of Christ. He was revered by the poor and marginalized members of society who had considered him as a living saint. Upon exhumation, his body was found to be intact and incorrupt, giving off a fine fragrance of sanctity. 

                                 Blessed Pope John XXIII said in the homily during the canonization of the saint in 1962, “Saint Martin, always obedient and inspired by his divine teacher, dealt with his brothers with that profound love which comes from pure faith and humility of spirit. He loved men and because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters. Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was.…. For the poor he would provide food, clothing and medicine.”

© By: Prof. Dr. Babu Philip, Darsana Academy, Kottayam-686001, Kerala, India ( Former Professor, Cochin University of Science & Technology, Fine Arts Avenue, Kochi-682016, Kerala, India), Prof. Mrs. Rajamma Babu, Former Professor, St. Dominic's College, Kanjirappally,  Leo. S. John, St. Antony's Public School, Anakkal, Kanjirappally and Neil John, Maniparambil, Ooriyakunnath, Kunnumbhagom, Kanjirappally, Kottayam-686507, Kerala, India.
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