November 22, 2013

St. Martin de Porres: ‘A saint for everyone’

Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, at right, welcomes the congregation as seminarian Douglas Hunter, left, and Fathers Kenneth Taylor, Steven Schwab and Todd Goodson listen at St. Monica Church in Indianapolis on Nov. 3. Brother Moises is the director of the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, which sponsored the St. Martin de Porres feast day Mass. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, at right, welcomes the congregation as seminarian Douglas Hunter, left, and Fathers Kenneth Taylor, Steven Schwab and Todd Goodson listen at St. Monica Church in Indianapolis on Nov. 3. Brother Moises is the director of the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, which sponsored the St. Martin de Porres feast day Mass. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

He was a simple man of prayer who swept floors and performed other menial tasks in a Dominican friary.

There are stories of his ability to be in two places at once, levitating and exuding light while praying, having the ability to walk through locked doors, and having powers as a healer.

He went on to become the patron saint of hairdressers, race relations, innkeepers, African-Americans, public schools, interracial harmony, Peru, people of mixed race, social justice and more.

This gifted man is St. Martin de Porres, whose feast day was celebrated on Nov. 3 with a special Mass and presentation at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. (Related: See a photo gallery from this month)

“With his multicultural background, he really is a saint for everyone,” said Dominican Father Cassian Sama, associate pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington diuring a presentation before Mass.

Father Cassian started with a sketch of the saint’s life.

St. Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579 to a Spanish father and a freed black slave.

“His father rejected St. Martin for his dark skin,” said Father Cassian. “Because of that, his childhood was one of poverty. He experienced everything the poor went through—hunger, starvation, rejection, abandonment.

“Most who grow in poverty are bitter. But God had graced [St. Martin de Porres] at an early age. He allowed Christ’s love to change his heart. His poor background enabled him to relate to others. Even as a child, he would give his scarce resources to beggars whom he saw as less fortunate than himself.

“He reflected Christ the humble servant, Christ who came to serve and not to be served. That is what made St. Martin de Porres unique. His whole life was an attitude of humility.”

He was apprenticed to a barber at age 12.

“At that time, a barber meant not just cutting hair,” Father Cassian explained. “It also meant medicine, doctoring, treating wounds and fractures, prescribing medicine, like a doctor and pharmacist.

“He became so good that people left his master and went to [St. Martin de Porres] instead. He became very successful and made a lot of money. But he gave it all to the poor.”

In his mid-teens, St. Martin de Porres felt the call to religious life with the Dominicans, but did not deem himself worthy of becoming a priest or brother.

He joined the Dominicans as a third order lay person, performing menial tasks, sweeping and cleaning.

“It wasn’t long before [the Dominicans] realized the person they had in their midst,” said Father Cassian, and St. Martin was asked by the Dominicans to join the order.

“St. Martin de Porres surrendered to God with complete humility. When you surrender to God, when you are humble, you allow divine providence to provide the means to become holy.”

After decades of serving with the Dominicans in various capacities, St. Martin de Porres died on Nov. 3, 1639.

In an interview after his presentation, Father Cassian admitted that, being a Dominican like St. Martin de Porres, the saint is one of his favorites.

“I admire his zeal to make Christ known,” he said. “He didn’t just help others—he saw Christ in others and loved them. It comes through his humility and peace, prayer and devotion to Mary. He’s just remarkable.”

Because of St. Martin de Porres’ designation as patron saint of intercultural harmony and relations, the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry sponsors a Mass each year to honor his feast day, changing the location of the Mass from year to year.

The Mass this year at St. Monica Church was concelebrated by Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis; Father Steven Schwab, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis; and Father Todd Goodson, pastor of St. Monica Parish. Father Dustin Boehm, associate pastor of St. Monica Parish, served as the principal celebrant.

Franciscan Brother Moises Gutierrez, director of the Office of Multicultural Ministry, reflected on the event.

“The St. Martin de Porres celebration is one of my favorite events the Office of Multicultural Ministry organizes,” he said. “In fact, I’m very proud that the archdiocese organizes this event every year.

“St. Martin de Porres is the patron saint of intercultural relations and intercultural harmony, and that was what we saw happening at this year’s celebration. We celebrated the diversity of our Catholic community in the archdiocese as one Church, one faith, one body, one Spirit.

“It was enlightening how we were able to incorporate our diversity in the liturgy and in the gathering afterward,” he added.

To honor the multicultural appeal of St. Martin de Porres, the readings, songs and homily were offered in English and Spanish, and the general intercessions were read in four languages. A pitch-in meal following the Mass featured foods from around the world.

“The joy present there was contagious,” said Brother Moises. “But, to quote Pope Francis, ‘The true joy that one experiences within the community … is not something superficial. It does not stem from things or from favorable circumstances, but from a deep harmony between persons.’ ” †

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