Born in Lima, Peru, in 1579, Saint Martin de Porres was the son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed woman of color from Panama. At the age of fifteen, he joined the Dominican Friary in Lima as a lay brother, dedicating his life to a multitude of services including barbering, farming, and caring for the sick as an almoner and infirmarian.
While Martin harbored a profound longing to become a missionary and perhaps a martyr, circumstances kept him within the confines of his local community. Instead, he practiced extreme personal penances, living his life as a testament to his faith. In return, it is said that he was blessed with extraordinary gifts, including the ability to bilocate and levitate.
On one occasion, Martin’s deep-seated compassion was illustrated when he brought a diseased and barely clothed beggar into his own bed. When chided for his actions by a fellow brother, Martin expressed that compassion should always take precedence over cleanliness, a sentiment that underscored his life’s philosophy.
During a dire epidemic in Lima, when many of his fellow friars fell ill, Martin miraculously tended to the sick, apparently passing through locked doors—a phenomenon confirmed by his superiors.
He continued his acts of mercy even when the provincial Superior forbade it, fearing the spread of contagion. His solution was to utilize his sister’s country home as a hospice. When reprimanded for bringing a severely wounded Indian to the convent, Martin humbly suggested that he was unaware that obedience was above charity, teaching an essential lesson to his superiors.
Saint Martin’s capacity for love was not limited to humans; he showed great care for animals as well and established a shelter for cats and dogs. His deep understanding of spiritual and temporal matters was evident in the way he addressed his sister’s marital issues, swiftly arranged a dowry for his niece, and resolved intricate theological questions for the learned of his Order and bishops.
A friend of St. Rose of Lima, Martin de Porres passed away on November 3, 1639. His canonization occurred on May 6, 1962, by the Catholic Church. Celebrated on November 3, his feast day honors his legacy as the patron saint of Peru, people of African descent, hairdressers, those of mixed race, the impoverished, public health workers, and advocates of racial harmony and social justice.
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